The plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle have both grown in popularity, as well as controversy over the past couple of decades. They often get confused with one another but have distinct differences. This article will explore similarities and differences; consensus versus controversy; facts and fallacies; diet versus lifestyle; and will also explore nutritional considerations to take into account when adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle.
A plant-based diet involves the consumption of only plant foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes). Veganism is a lifestyle that “excludes, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to. animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society
Let’s cover some key terminology before we get started.
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.
The intake of food consequentially consumed by a person who is vegan. This diet can include any processed (oreo cookies, oils, white rice, veggie burger) and/or non-processed food (fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds).
A diet that consists of mostly plant-based food choices. This category can be broken into 4 sub-categories.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude meat, poultry, and fish. Will consume eggs and dairy.
- Pesco-pollo vegetarians will eat chicken fish and shellfish.
- Pescatarians will eat fish and shellfish.
- Flexitarians consume a mostly plant-based diet, with occasional small portions of meat.
A person who consumes a variety of plant-based foods, as well as animal-derived products.
A diet that places focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, beans, and oils. It is not vegetarian or vegan, and does not mean you never eat meat or dairy. Rather, the emphasis is placed on choosing more foods from plant sources. Consumption of refined sugars, bleached flour, and processed foods are allowed on a plant-based diet.
The significant difference between plant-based and whole-food plant-based is the omission of processed oils and other processed foods. This diet tries to consume food from its original source, with minimal modifications.
Similarities and Differences
The Vegan “Diet”
Often you will hear the term “Vegan diet;” however, veganism is much broader in scope and goes well beyond diet. We will further discuss the Vegan lifestyle at the end of this post, you are more than welcome to continue to read as far down as you like. 🙂
A Vegan, or a person who consumes what is considered a “Vegan diet,” will not eat anything derived from an animal. While a person adopting a plant-based or whole-food plant-based diet will try to abstain from the items listed below.
A vegan will not consume any of the following:
- Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, veal, venison, or any other wild meat derived from a once-living animal
- Seafood: Fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, squid, mussels, scallops, anchovies, and fish sauce.
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck, goose, quail, etc.
- Dairy: Milk from an animal such as cow or goats milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, cream, etc.
- Eggs: From chicken, fish, ostriches, quails,
- Bee products: honey, bee pollen or royal jelly
The Vegan lifestyle extends beyond the diet and ingredients made from animal products.
Shoes, clothes, accessories, makeup, shampoo, leather, silk, wool, gelatin, beeswax, lanolin, etc., is off the table.
Whole Food. Plant-Based Diet
Plant-based and whole foods, plant-based diets share many similarities. The major distinction revolves around the processing and preparation of plant-based foods.
The staple foods for both of these diets include:
- Fruits: Acai Berry, Blackberry, Black Rasberry, Blueberry, Boysenberry, Cranberry, Elderberry, Goji Berry, Huckleberry, Raspberry, Red Mulberry, Strawberry, etc. *For a comprehensive list of berries and nutritional information visit NutritionAdvance.com.*
Citrus Fruits: Clementine, Grapefruit, Kumquat, Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Tangerines, etc.
Pears: Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Green Anjou, Red Anjou, Red Bartlette, Seckel, and Starkrimson
Pineapples, Bananas, Melons, etc.
- Vegetables: Artichoke, Asparagus, Avocado, Beets, Broccoli, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Carrots, Celery Root, Garlic, Kale, Mushrooms, Peppers, Potatoes, Spinach, Sprouts, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, etc.
*OK, I can read your mind and know what you are thinking. . . are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Botanically speaking tomatoes are classified as fruit. Culinarily speaking tomatoes are seen as a vegetable.
- Whole Grains: Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Bulgur Wheat, Millet, Quinoa, Spelt, Whole Barley, Whole Grain Breads, Whole Grain Pasta, Whole Wheat, Whole Oats, and Whole-Grain Rye.
While we are on the subject of whole grains, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – gluten.Gluten is the combination of the proteins gliadin and glutenin, and can be found in some grains, especially wheat. It is the protein that gives bread and pasta that elasticity. Therefore, gluten-free foods can often lack the texture that makes these types of foods so desirable.
For those diagnosed with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy or dermatitis herpetiformis, foods containing glutin have the potential to wreak havoc on the body. However, for the vast majority of the population, a gluten-free diet may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, the development of type-2 diabetes, and death from all causes due to the potential reduction of the healthful benefits found in whole-grain food consumption.
Grains containing gluten:
Barley, Bulgur, Farro, Kamut, Oats, Pumpernickel, Rye, Semolina, Spelt, Triticale, and Wheat. Other Sources of gluten include beer, bread, pasta, pastries, sauces, etc.
Grains that do not contain gluten:
Amaranth, Buckwheat, Corn, Hominy, Millet, Quinoa, Rice, Sorghum, and Teff.
- Healthy Whole Food Fats: Avocados, Chia Seeds, Flaxseeds, Sesame Seeds, Tofu, and Walnuts.
* Fats derived from the whole food source, rather than oils that have been extracted, processed and refined, maintain their nutritional profile, and are not so calorically dense.There are 119 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 0 grams of dietary fiber in one tablespoon of olive oil.
A 3.5 gram serving of whole olives only contains 115 calories, 10.7 grams of fat, and 3.2 grams of fiber!Healthful Tip:
Purchase some high-quality not-stick pots and pans and try using water in place of oil the next time you prepare a meal. Or, try using vegetable broth in place of oil the next time you cook, you’ll never notice the difference – but your body will thank you!
- Legumes/Beans: Black Beans, Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, Lentils, Split Peas, etc.
- Seeds and Nuts: Almonds, Cashews, Chia Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Flax Seeds, Macadamia Nuts, Mustard Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Walnuts, etc.
- Unsweetened Plant-Based Milks: Almond Milk, Cashew Milk, Hemp Milk, Oat Milk, Pea Milk, Quinoa Milk, Soy Milk, etc. The dairy industry spends significant amounts of money promoting the health benefits of cows milk, including the impact it has on healthy bones. However, there are significant reasons why milk may not be the best source of calcium for everyone including an increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancer. For more information about plant-based milk, read this article by the American Society for Nutrition.
- Spices, Herbs, and Seasonings: Basal, Black Pepper, Cumin, Curry, Liquid Aminos, Rosemary, Tumeric, and the quintessential seasoning . . . Nutritional Yeast.
- Condiments: Lemon Juice, Mustard, Soy Sauce, Salsa, Sriracha, Vinegar, Wasabi, etc.
- Plant-Based Protein: Amaranth, Artichokes, Asparagus, Beans, Broccoli, Chia Seeds, Brussels Sprouts, Green Peas, Hempseed, Lentils, Lima Beans, Mushrooms, Nutritional Yeast, Nuts, Oats, Quinoa, Seeds, Soy Bean Sprouts, Spinach, Spirulina, Soy (Edamame, Seitan, tofu, and milk), Spelt, Sprouted Grain Bread, Sweet Potatoes, and Wild Rice.Visit the plant-based protein page to get the nutritional profile for many of the aforementioned foods.
What is the Difference Between Plant-Based and Whole Food Plant-Based
Both plant-based and whole-food plant-based diets try to avoid or limit their consumption of meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy.
The main difference between the two is a whole-food plant-based diet will consist of strict adherence to the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, and seeds in their natural, unprocessed state.
On the other hand, a person who consumes a plant-based diet will consider including processed foods such as whole-grain bread, pasta, and oils, as long as it is derived from a plant source.
Consensus Versus Controversy
Gather a vegan and a meat-eater in a room and the conversation will likely go something like this:
Vinnie the Vegan: Meat Causes Cancer!
Marty the Meat Eater: You need meat for protein!
Vinnie the Vegan: Animal agriculture is ruining our planet!
Marty the Meat Eater: You need meat to get your B-12.
Vinnie the Vegan: Meat is Murder!
Marty the Meat Eater: Humans are designed to eat meat.
As you can see, the lines have been drawn, and neither seems to want to compromise. Is it possible to find a middle ground?
The best approach is to weigh in on both sides of the debate and try to see the perspective from both angles. If we take the time to listen to one another and have a well-thought-out dialogue, we may be able to find some solutions that fit best with everyone’s convictions and ethics.
Let’s look at some facts, and then see if we can find some middle-ground solutions.
- Do I need to go completely plant-based to be healthy?
When you look at the studies, you will often see that plant-based diet fares much better when it comes to the reduction of most diseases, and that those who consume meat regularly have an increased risk of obesity. So, herein lies the rub. Is the increase in health and longevity due to the absence of meat, or the increased nutrient-density obtained through a whole-foods plant-based diet?According to the Centers for Disease Control, fewer than 10 percent of the population consume the recommended daily intake of whole-food plant-based foods – 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables a day.So, it seems clear that an initial middle-ground plan of action to help reduce disease risk would be to trend upwards on our nutrition-dense whole foods intake.
- What’s the deal with processed foods?
In October of 2015, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conducted a comprehensive study and found that the consumption of processed meat is carcinogenic, based on “sufficient research.” And let’s also take a look at other processed foods like chips, pastries, breakfast cereals, and drinks. Most processed foods are laden with sugar, salt, and saturated fats, and are mostly void of any nutritional value. Also, many processed foods are made using chemical emulsifiers to enhance feel and texture; natural and artificial flavorings such as high fructose corn syrup and monosodium glutamate (MSG) to boost flavor, and artery-clogging hydrogenated oils to help improve taste, texture and overall shelf life. It’s no wonder today’s society is trapped in a seemingly endless loop of binge snacking, it was intentionally designed this way by the food manufacturing companies. Not to mention the colorful packaging, “super-sized” options, and flavor variety packs designed to tempt both our palette and our brains. If mere willpower is your only tool in the arsenal, you might be facing an uphill battle.Ideas to Bolster Willpower:* Chew Slowly: Consider the number of chews it takes between placing your utensil down and picking it back up again, aim for between 20-25 chews. Consider a mindful eating app like Am I Hungry?® Virtual Coach.
* Bolster Healthy Habits: Stress and boredom are partners in crime when it comes to unhealthy eating. If you can occupy your mind with activities you enjoy like socializing, exercising, reading, and engaging in a favorite hobby, it can distract your thoughts away from the less healthy habit towards building a more well-balanced lifestyle.
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- Don’t I need meat to get all of my essential nutrients? Whether you consume an omnivorous, vegan, or plant-based diet, you are likely going to be deficient in some form of an essential nutrient. It is rare to find a person who is 100% in balance. This is why it is important to listen to your body, observe visual cues and make sure to have a qualified medical professional, and perhaps a licensed nutritionist available to help assess any deficits, and prescribe a plan of action. A vegetarian or a person consuming a whole foods plant-based lifestyle should keep an eye out to make sure they are getting adequate amounts of the nutrients listed below.* Protein Sources: Seitan, Tempeh, Edamame, Tofu, Beans, Lentils, and Quinoa
* Calcium Sources: Dark Leafy Greens, Fortified Plant Milk, Beans, Nuts and Seeds
* Vitamin B12: Nutritional Yeast, Supplement
* Iodine: Dark Leafy Green Vegetables, Kelp, Seaweed, asparagus, and/or iodized salt.
* Omega-3 Fats: Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Chia Seeds, Walnuts, Dark Leafy Green Vegetables, Algae Supplements
* Iron: Beans, Lentils, Dark Leafy Greens, Seeds, Nuts and Fortified Foods
* Vitamin D: Mushrooms, Exposure to Ultraviolet Light, Significant Sun Exposure, Fortified Plant Milk
* Zinc: Tofu, Tempeh, Beans, Lentils, Whole Grains, Nuts, and SeedsFollow the four recommendations below to help to assure you are on the right path to getting your recommended nutrients.1. Make sure to try and consume 3 palm-sized portions of protein-rich plant foods from the list above each day.
2. Consume 1 fist-sized portion of darl leafy greens every day.
3. Eat 1-2 cupped handfuls of beans (only one portion is necessary if you are also using beans as your protein source).
4. Consume 1-2 thumb-sized portions of nuts and seeds each day.
- What about the impact factory farming is having on our planet? Is it true, or just propaganda?
The following statistics listed below come from environmentalintegrity.org.
1. Industrial factory farms in the United States are responsible for the majority of the production of meat, milk, and eggs, confining hundreds, to thousands, and even millions of animals.
2. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are approximately 20,000 factory farming facilities throughout the country and are often clustered in regions of the country, often affecting small communities.
3. Factory Farms produce more than 300 million tons of manure every year, more than three times what is produced by humans. This waste is often stored in large sewage pits called lagoons, before it is spread over cropland.
4. Factory farms contribute large amounts of air pollutants into the atmosphere. Hydrogen sulfide, which contributes to acid rain, regional haze, and spreads extreme malodor upon local residents. Small particles pollute the air, which can contribute to asthmatic episodes and heart attacks. Greenhouse gasses are emitted from these confinement areas, which cause a warming of the climate.
5. According to a 2006 report by the EPA, factory farms in the U.S.A. were responsible for emitting almost 9 million tons of methane, a significant driver of climate change.
6. “Dead Zones” are being created due to the ammonia and nitrogen oxide gases being emitted by factory farms, polluting the water, and pulling the oxygen away due to the growth and subsequent rot of algae blooms in nearby lakes and estuaries.
7. Nearby residents are stuck in destitute situations, as real estate values depreciate do to the air pollution, and diminishing quality of life caused by the factory farms. A University of Missouri study found that every factory farm in the state of Missouri has subsequently depressed property value by $2.68 million.
5. What are some recommendations if I’m not ready to go completely vegan, but I acknowledge the severity of the current situation?
- Try to limit your meat consumption to just one serving of 1 to 3 ounces a day. Replace the other meals with beans, potatoes, root vegetables, whole grains, mushrooms, and seeds. Make sure to try different seasonings and sauces to jazz up your plate. After all, it is the seasonings and sauces that give most meats its desired taste. You may be surprised and get hooked!
- Try to choose sustainably raised animals raised on a feedlot. If this is not possible, purchase your meat locally, rather than at the large chain grocery stores.
- Dine out less and enjoy more meals at home. Eating at home often means less food will go to waste, and there will be less packaging involved.
- Support locally grown foods. When you choose to shop locally, there will be a higher likelihood that the produce was grown in soil, rather than in a greenhouse that uses artificial light and climate control mechanisms. Also, your food will have traveled fewer miles, thereby helping to reduce the overall carbon footprint.
A Few Take-Home Messages
- In every aspect of life, focus on being better, not perfect. Small steps over time can turn into tremendous leaps.
- Try to get a substantial portion of quality, preferably organic whole-foods throughout the day.
- Get enough quality protein, which can be obtained with whole-food plant-based options. Try to minimize whenever possible your reliance on protein intake from animal-derived sources whenever possible.
- Eat a whole-lotta fruits and veggies!
- Focus on nutrient-dense foods from their original source. These foods have substantial amounts of fiber, which can help with disease prevention, as well as weight maintenance.
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible.
- Eat slowly, and chew thoroughly.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
Compliment Your Body, LLC
1441 Broadway #6087
New York, NY. 10018
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Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS