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There's A Big Difference Between A Plant-Based Diet And A Vegan Diet

The two are not interchangeable.

24/05/2017 8:01 PM AEST | Updated 22/06/2017 11:21 PM AEST
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A bowl of vegetables picked from the garden.

Reducetarian, flexitarian, vegetarian ― there’s a diet out there for everyone. That’s why it’s more important than ever to make sure we get it all straight.

One diet (or lifestyle) that’s been gaining in popularity among nutritionists, celebrities and millennials is the whole foods plant-based diet. The diet mostly appeals to anyone who’s looking to live a healthier lifestyle, but its smaller environmental footprint makes it particularly appealing to millennials.

If you’ve heard people talking about a whole foods plant-based diet, you may have thought this was basically just another word for veganism, but you’d be wrong. Really wrong. And we’re going to explain why.

Vegans abstain from eating any animal products. According to The Vegan Society, “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.” This means that many vegans also don’t purchase leather goods. But it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re eating lots of whole foods plant-based meals. Vegans could get through life eating processed foods and snubbing their veggies just like anyone else. Think potato chips, (vegan-friendly) gummy candy, and even cookies.

A whole foods plant-based diet, on the other hand, emphasizes eating whole fruits and vegetables, consuming lots of whole grains, and staying away from (or at least minimizing) the intake of animal products and processed foods for health reasons. That means that even vegan desserts made with refined sugar or bleached flour are out. It does not restrict their purchase of leather goods. 

There are no strict guidelines or definitions for what constitute a whole foods plant-based diet other than focusing on eating lots of fresh produce and minimally processed foods. Some people on a whole foods plant-based diet don’t eat any animal products, while others will eat a restricted amount. It’s flexible in that way, but strict in its focus on eating whole foods.

We’re not saying that a vegan can’t be on a whole foods plant-based diet or vice versa, but the two are not interchangeable and we want to make sure you know it. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article at times referred to a whole foods plant-based diet as just a plant-based diet. All references to this diet have been changed to a whole foods plant-based diet to eliminate confusion.

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