What’s The Difference Between Being Vegan, Vegetarian & Anything In Between?

In Asia, we see more and more people choosing to not eat animals or animals’ byproducts. Many choose to practice it for health reasons, and there are some that are ethically or environmentally motivated. Whatever their reasons may be, being a Vegan or a Vegetarian is becoming increasingly mainstream. Despite this burgeoning interest, some people aren’t sure what the two options involve – and what the differences are.

Should you be interested in practicing a new eating habit but unsure on which types to choose from, this simple guide may just be a helpful one.

What is vegetarianism?

Broadly speaking, vegetarians simply do not eat animal flesh and lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based food with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs.

A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal. This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, insects, by-products of slaughter or any food made with processing aids created from these. Vegetarians typically consume a range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and pulses, as well as “meat substitutes” that derive from these food types.

Vegetarianism is generally less strict than veganism, so there are several well-known variations of the vegetarian diet. These include:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian. People who follow this diet avoid all types of meat and fish but do consume dairy products and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarian. People on this diet do not eat any meat, fish, or eggs but do consume dairy products.
  • Ovo-vegetarian. Individuals following this diet do not eat any meat, fish, or dairy products but do consume eggs.
  • Pescatarian. Those who follow this diet avoid all meats expect fish and other types of seafood. However, this does not meet the traditional definition of vegetarianism, and many people refer to the pescatarian diet as being semi-vegetarian or flexitarian.

What is Veganism?

Veganism on the other hand is not only a diet, but a moral position as well. It is stricter than Vegetarianism as it is a way of living which seeks to exclude all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

For this reason, vegans not only exclude animals from their diets, they also avoid wearing animal products like leather, wool and silk, and avoid using any products that have been tested on animals, or contain animal byproducts. For example, a vegan would avoid using a lipstick that contains beeswax. They will also avoid supporting the use of animals in entertainment (for example, in circuses).

Vegans will not consume:

  • Meat: Beef, lamb, pork, veal, horse, organ meat, wild meat, etc.
  • Poultry: Chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail, etc.
  • Fish and seafood: All types of fish, anchovies, shrimp, squid, scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, lobster and fish sauce.
  • Dairy: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
  • Eggs: From chickens, quails, ostriches and fish.
  • Bee products: Honey, bee pollen, royal jelly, etc.

The hidden ingredients that Vegans or Vegetarians will always avoid

  • Isinglass – a substance obtained from the swim bladders of fish
  • Gelatin – a protein obtained from the bones, cartilage, tendons & skin of animal
  • Vitamin D3 may be sourced from fish liver oil
  • Omega-3 fatty acids normally derive from fish

* You may be interested to know more information on hidden animal ingredients in food

Nutritional Concerns: Getting the right nutrients from vegan and vegetarian diet.

As Vegans and Vegetarians choose not to consume meats and animal byproducts, they may be lacking in important nutrients that are needed for overall wellbeing such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids stores. Here’s how a vegan/vegetarian can stock up on those much needed nutrients:

  • Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and Vitamin D are vital for building strong, dense bones and in keeping them strong and healthy as we age.

Dairy products are the major source of Calcium and Vitamin D – Vegans and Vegetarians should include dark leafy greens, tofu, soy milk, sesame seeds and pulses in their diet to substitute their dairy intake.

  • Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential nutrient for normal brain and nervous system functions as well as helping to make red blood cells and DNA. Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia will make people feel tired and weak.

Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in animal products – Vegans and Vegetarians may want to consider vitamin supplements and foods that are fortified with Vitamin B12 including breakfast cereals and soy milk.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids help support brain function and development as well as normal vision and heart health.

Flaxseed, rapeseed, nuts and soy based food are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids that are suitable for vegans or vegetarians.

Vegans and vegetarianscan potentially meet the requirements for vitamins and minerals consumption by practicing a well-balanced diet including supplements or fortified products.

If you’re moving from a traditional diet to a totally vegan diet, it can be difficult to find recipes without meat that are satisfying and filling. A key to eating a plant-based or vegan diet is to load up on plant proteins, including beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If you are eating a fully vegan vs. vegetarian diet, you may want to contact your doctor about whether you should take a B-12 supplement.


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Swanson, D., Block, R. & Mousa, S. A. (2012). Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Adv Nutr., 3(1), 1-7. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.111.000893

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