Plant-based vs. Vegan… and other terms

If you are confused by the variety of terms used to describe diet, you are not alone. This post defines several common and lesser known terms used to describe eating habits, and will make clear how these terms are distinct.

PLANT-BASED refers to someone who eats mostly plants. Closely related to this term, WHOLE FOOD, PLANT-BASED emphasizes eating whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Eating whole food, plant-based implies that you don’t eat processed foods. Processed foods include foods that are packaged, and specifically packaged foods with long lists of ingredients that cannot be read or found in your kitchen. Whole food, plant-based also excludes oil, and implies minimal to no added salt. In my experience, this is something that people judge for themselves and it often depends on what they read and what they feel is necessary for cooking.

These terms are so closely linked that I often see them used interchangeably. People who are plant-based or whole-food, plant-based may try to eat organic and locally grown foods. If they were to eat foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, oil, or processed items these foods would be used as a side or a sauce rather than a dish. I like these terms compared to others because they describe what you can eat, and as you will see, most of the others describe what you can’t eat.

VEGAN means that you do not eat animal products. This includes meat, milk, cheese, eggs, and honey. This decision is often related to ethics, specifically the exploitation of animals. Contrary to the term plant-based, veganism does not address consumption of processed foods.

Research shows that plant-based eating and veganism both impact personal and animal health and support the environment through the exclusion of animal products. A general way that you can think about the difference is the reason that people typically adopt these diets. Plant-based eating is often related to human health, while veganism is closely associated with animal wellbeing.

And here are some others…

VEGETARIAN is a term used to describe someone who does not eat meat.

FLEXITARIAN refers to someone who eats meat infrequently. This may mean that they only eat meat on a special occasion or have it in a particular dish or at a specific restaurant. I was a flexitarian for several years. For me this meant that every couple months I may have some fish, I liked fish tacos, and when I would come back home on breaks, if my family bought Pok Pok wings I would partake. That was it.

NUTRITARIAN was coined by Joel Fuhrman and just means that you are trying to get as many nutrients per calorie as possible. This by extension is related to plant-based foods because there is more nutrition per calorie in whole foods than processed foods.

FRUITARIAN someone who eats only fruit.

PESCETARIAN describes someone who doesn’t eat fish.

Finally, there are three terms used to describe animals diets which make appearances in conversation. Oddly enough, one of the most common I hear is carnivore. For everyone out there who describe themselves as carnivores, I would just like to establish that CARNIVORES only eat meat. Have you never eaten a fruit? Humans are usually OMNIVORES which describes consumption of meat and plants. Interestingly, omnivore is a term I hear less than the others. And finally, a HERBIVORE only eats plants. If you are plant-based, whole food, plant-based, or vegan you may consider yourself a herbivore.

Which term describes you best?

There are undoubtedly more terms used to describe eating habits. I’ll keep you posted as I come across others!



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