Vegan vs. plant-based: similar, yet very different

Have you ever wondered about the difference between the terms “vegan” and “plant-based”? Even though these terms are often used interchangeably, their meanings and implications are very different.

Let’s start by saying that both groups of people whether vegan or following a plant-based diet choose to eliminate all animal products from their diet, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, gelatin, and other animal derivates. Therefore, their diet strictly consists of plant products, such as veggies, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Now, let’s look at the main differences between the two concepts.


The term “plant-based” refers to a diet, which consists mostly or entirely of plant-based foods. Plant-based foods are foods derived from plants with no animal-source foods or artificial ingredients.

The term plant-based was first introduced in the 1980s by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, an American biochemist and author of the famous book “The China Study”, a masterpiece in the field of nutrition science. This was one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken about the relationship between diet and the risk of developing several types of chronic diseases.

One of the most common versions of the plant-based diet is called “WHOLE FOOD PLANT-BASED”, in short, WFPB. This is a low-fat and high-fiber vegetable-based diet, consisting of unprocessed or minimally processed foods from whole plants. People following a WFBP diet tend to avoid white bread or pasta because these are highly processed and refined foods. They would instead opt for whole grain and whole wheat carbs.

According to several academic studies, such as the one published in the American Heart Journal, a WFPB diet is one of the healthiest diets as it prevents – and in some cases can even reverse – chronic diseases such as coronary heart problems, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer. These are among the most common and deadliest illnesses affecting a hundred million people all over the world each year.

Therefore, people who choose a plant-based or a WFPB diet do it mainly for health-related concerns.

So what is the difference between vegans and people who follow a plant-based diet?


According to The Vegan Society, adopting a vegan lifestyle is an “ethical” choice that seeks to exclude – as far as possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose”.

Since veganism is an ethical choice, vegans not only refuse animal-based foods, but also avoid clothes and shoes and accessories made from animal products like silk, wool, leather, suede, or down feathers and beauty products that are either animal-based or tested on animals. Vegans are also against the idea of using animals for entertainment as it leads to animal exploitation and hence avoid going to zoos, aquatic parks, or circuses that use animals for commercial purposes.

Therefore, a vegan would follow a plant-based diet, but a person following a plant-based diet may not necessarily be vegan. In short, plant-based diets focus purely on the health benefits of avoiding animal products from our diet, whereas for vegans, the main considerations are the ethics for caring about the animals and the environment.

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