PLANT-BASED VS. VEGAN


When it comes down to choosing a way of eating to follow, veganism and plant-based eating have become more popular than ever. While they have some similarities there are also very notable differences.

The term “vegan” refers to someone who does not consume any animal products, this means no meat, poultry, dairy, fish, or eggs. The term “plant-based” refers to someone who eats a diet based around plants or predominantly of plants. Alternatively, the term “whole food, plant-based” made famous by the Forks Over Knives program refers to an almost exclusive diet of minimally processed plants.




The Environment.

When it comes to the environment it is important for us to minimize our support of factory farming and industrialized agriculture such as mono-cropping. We are using too much land for a single type of plant, feeding cows too much grain, pumping poultry with an absurd amount of antibiotics, and overfishing our poor oceans. For those reasons a vegan diet can be incredibly beneficial for our environmental health. However, a more processed vegan diet of white pasta and sugary foods may exclude those particular harms but is supporting the creation of highly processed goods and larger businesses that do not practice environmental sustainability.


A plant-based diet is also very environmentally friendly as it reduces the reliance on animal products and places the focus on minimally processed plants. While it is not 100% exclusive as a vegan diet usually is, it leaves some room for more “sustainably sourced” products such as a few eggs from your neighbor’s backyard chickens or that fish that you caught this summer when on the coast. While this may not be as entirely environmental as a vegan lifestyle it may be more sustainable long term for some.


Health & Longevity.

Research has constantly been showing that a diet based on plants has been proven to be healthful and preventative against chronic disease. See my book Plant-Based for Prevention, How Not to Die, Forks Over Knives, The China Study, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and Reversing Diabetes for just a few science-based books in support of this conclusion. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics even concluded this same fact in a report in 2016!



One of my favorite books over the past few years has actually been the Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. He looks at one factor that I know has crossed everyone’s mind at some point, lifespan, to see what factors truly effect it. He went to the “Blue Zones” around the world; areas with the most centenarians (people that live to or past 100) to see what their lifestyles consisted of. In addition to social, mental, and physical health the only thing these communities had in common was that their diets all consisted of mostly plants. While depending on the area some ate occasional dairy, occasional fish, or used meat as a celebratory dish, their daily diets were mainly plant-based. While there is little long-term research on a lifetime being fully vegan a life long diet based on plants has been proven to be healthy and in support of longevity. However, someone who is vegan who places their focus on unprocessed plant foods can easily achieve the same benefits. Animal products are NOT necessary to live or maintain a healthy diet, I repeat ARE NOT. With a light focus on proper nutrition, you can get everything you need from a fully plant exclusive diet. The only differentiation here is the difference between 75% and 100% plant based. This difference would be incredibly difficult to prove one way or the other in terms of which is truly healthier for you through research.



Sustainability.

There is a reason why the diet train is leaving the station, they are not sustainable! More and more health professionals are beginning to understand that pushing crazy diets does not work. Eating with ridiculous restrictions, cutting out food and nutrient groups, counting everything, and driving yourself insane for 30 days is not worth it. The benefits you will see will be minimal and will not last once you return to your daily life. This is where lifestyle changes come into play. Following a plant-based diet where you eat mostly plants each day without feeling restricted or concerned about amounts and specific nutrients is easily sustainable once you start learning your favorite recipes and how to cook in this new way. It is also not a 100% clear cut line of what you should and shouldn’t eat. So, if you go out to a restaurant and get some white pasta or a piece of locally caught fish you do not need to feel guilty or wrong as you still maintain a diet of mostly plants. It is meant to feel unrestrictive and healthful which is the perfect combination to make a sustainable way of eating.


In terms of a vegan diet this is more clear-cut and often leads to a high attrition rate due to restrictiveness. People often find that it is difficult to maintain with a social life in today’s society or depending on their food access/ location. If you have access to healthy options and social support, it may be incredibly easy for you to maintain this way of eating which is wonderful. However, for those who do not and return to the standard American diet it is unfortunately not helpful. With the constant influx of new vegan meats and cheeses it is getting much easier for people to follow this way of eating without missing out on flavors and textures. This does however bring in a new problem of what actually is in this “mock chicken.” At the Plant Stock Conference in 2018 I remember Rip Esselstyn of the Forks Over Knives program making a comment.


It went along the lines of, “I want you to follow a whole food, plant-based diet, but if your dying grandmother makes you a blueberry pie, you better eat a slice of that pie.”


Don’t let any way of eating stop you from living your life but chose your battles. If you can choose a plant-based option over and animal-based option, do it. If you need to put in a little extra effort to plan meals, do it. If you need to enjoy a once-a-year meal made with love from a family member, do it. One slice of blueberry pie won’t kill you, in fact it will probably bring you joy. Eating it every day might. Everything in moderation but understand “often” isn’t moderation.


How sustainable a lifestyle or diet is completely depends on the individual and their lifestyle. I do want to note that no lifestyle change different from the grain of society will ever be easy. With some effort, planning, and learning see what is sustainable for you. Whether that be a 100% vegan diet, or an 80% plant-based diet do your best to focus on eating as many minimally processed plant foods as possible without going so crazy that you can’t sustain it.



So which do I personally follow?

To learn about the specifics of my journey and way of eating check out this interview I did with the plant-based company MamaSezz here. To put it shortly, I previously followed an exclusively vegan diet that was essentially plant-based as I ate minimally processed plant foods. Over the past few years, I have transitioned to a more plant-based lifestyle. While I still do not eat any meat, poultry, dairy or eggs I come from a family who loves to fish for two weeks during the summer on our family vacation. While I still maintain a 95% plant exclusive diet, I do enjoy seafood that we catch off the coast at that time. I am not supporting large draggers destroying the ocean but am supporting a lifestyle that is sustainable to me. Due to my mom also following a whole food, plant-based lifestyle it is easy for me to sustain day to day. I love the joy of cooking with local organic produce and focusing on nutrient rich meals.


As a future Registered Dietitian, I will support anyone’s lifestyle that they may chose vegan, plant-based or not, but will always focus on eating more plants! I recognize the health and environmental benefits that come with a plant focused diet and would love if everyone could as well. It is simply unsustainable to push something that the majority of people cannot achieve.


In the wise words of Michael Pollan, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”


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