Vegan, Vegetarian and Plant-Based | What’s the Difference?

Vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets. What’s the difference? All of these ways of eating are plant-forward, but they are quite diverse. Have you been confused by these terms? Well, so have we, and we decided to get educated! Read on as we sort out the terms and definitions!

A picture of different fruits with text reading vegan, vegetarian, plant-based what's the difference?

An Overview


Donald Watson coined the term “vegan” in 1944. Vegans focus on protecting animals by avoiding all animal products. The Vegan Society provides a clear definition of veganism:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Definition of veganism | The Vegan Society

It’s important to note that you can eat a vegan diet without following the vegan lifestyle. In that case, you could be a “dietary” vegan or a plant-based eater, depending on who you ask.


Vegetarians avoid eating meat or other parts of an animal. However, there are different “types” of vegetarian. They differ in eating animal by-products like eggs and dairy. For example:

  • Ovo-lacto: the most common Western vegetarian diet. It allows eggs, dairy, and honey.
  • Ovo: allows eggs and honey, but not dairy. Ovo-vegetarians often object to dairy industry practices.
  • Lacto: lacto-vegetarians eat dairy and honey, but not eggs. This practice evolved from cultures that don’t consider eggs to be vegetarian.
  • Veganism: a vegan diet includes only plants. This means that even honey is off the menu. However, veganism isn’t just a diet – it’s a whole lifestyle. We’ll discuss this more below.


Dr. T. Colin Campbell introduced the plant-based diet in the early 1980s. He used the term “plant-based” to separate diet science from vegan ethics. However, over the past three decades, the definition of plant-based has changed. As a result, there are now several definitions.

In some cases, people use plant-based diet and vegan diet to mean the same thing. However, plant-based doesn’t always mean “meatless”. It simply means that the majority of food comes from plant sources. In fact, this diet allows animal products (meat, dairy, and honey) in small amounts.

Of course, many plant-based diets do exclude animal products. In addition, “plant-based” is often used as a short form of “whole food plant-based diet.” Whole foods are ingredients that are processed as little as possible before eating (including meat, dairy, and honey).

So in summary, the difference between vegan, vegetarian and plant-based diets are:

  • A Vegan diet includes all plants.
  • A Vegetarian diet includes some blend of plants, dairy, eggs, and honey.
  • A Plant-Based diet may supplement plants with small portions of meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Overall, this diet focusses on “whole foods” (more on this below).

How are Whole and Processed Foods Different?

People eating vegan or vegetarian diets tend to eat plenty of fresh whole foods. However, there is still room for some processed products. Some examples are: dairy-free cheese (packaged)

Mock meats

Potato chips, soda, Oreos, etc.

In contrast, plant-based diets focus on “whole” foods. Some examples are:

  • Homemade nut cheese, guacamole, hummus, and salsa
  • Nut butter (without added sugar or preservatives)
  • Oatmeal (especially steel-cut and rolled oats)
  • Bread, pasta, and noodles made from whole wheat or brown rice
  • Fresh and cooked fruit and vegetables
  • And if animal products are consumed: grass-fed beef and pork, wild-caught seafood, pasture-raised dairy, pasture-raised eggs, and raw honey (in small servings)

Of course, it’s entirely possible – and very healthy – to combine these concepts and follow a whole food vegan diet!

Differing Approaches to Animal Products

For Vegetarians and Plant-Based eaters, the use of animal products depends on the person. Some follow these diets for reasons other than animal rights. Therefore, they may use animal-based clothes, cosmetics, and more.

In contrast, Veganism has deep roots in animal rights. In fact, vegans use no animal products at all. To move beyond eating a 100%plant-based diet to living a vegan lifestyle, one should avoid a range of animal-derived items. For example:

  • Clothes and other items made from silk, wool, down, fur, and leather
  • Skincare and cosmetics with beeswax, lanolin, stearic acid, collagen, and more
  • Products refined with bone char (some brands of white sugar) or made with it (most tattoo ink)
  • Beer and wine created within animal fining agents

This may seem challenging at first. However, it becomes simple once you spend time learning about vegan products. Hopefully you’re like us, and enjoy the challenge as you change your lifestyle and find new ways to cook!

In Conclusion

We hope the terms vegan, vegetarian and plant-based are clearer now. There is some overlap, but overall:

  • Vegans focus on animal rights and don’t use any animal products.
  • Vegetarians may add dairy, eggs, honey and other animal by-products to their diet. However, they don’t eat meat or other animal parts. They might use or wear non-food animal products.
  • The plant-based diet focusses on a diet centered around plants, including the occasional consumption of animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, honey) in small amounts. There is no restriction on using or wearing non-food animal products.

All of the recipes on the blog are vegan, and I personally identify as vegan. I also try to focus on whole foods, but I do enjoy a wide variety of 100% plant-based/vegan products. Most importantly, I love to share recipes that everyone can enjoy, so more people can experience the wonders of vegan food!

If this post has you interested in vegan food – why not try some of our most popular recipes?

And if you do try them, please let us know what you think with a comment and rating. Every bit of feedback helps make the blog even better.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll make a small commission if you purchase using these links. The price you pay as a consumer does not change.

Rachel Steenland

Rachel Steenland

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