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Plant-based Diets: Types and Benefits

Aiden Ford, Rebecca Gillaspy
  • Author
    Aiden Ford

    Aiden Ford has taught Earth, Life and Physical Science for five years in grades 6-8. Aiden has a Bachelors of Arts in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic.

  • Instructor
    Rebecca Gillaspy

    Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Explore the difference in meaning and health benefits of both vegetarian and vegan diets, and discover the uniqueness in lifestyles of the people practicing them. Updated: 11/12/2021

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Vegan Versus Vegetarian Diets

Plant-based dieting is practiced by hundreds of animals all over the world. All proteins, which are the building blocks of life, are produced by plants. Even the protein acquired by eating meat comes originally from plants. If there are so many animals that eat this way, it stands to reason it may be good for humans too. This lesson will explore what plant-based diets are, their numerous benefits, the pros and cons of each, and some tips on how to get started.

There are two categories of plant-based diets; vegetarian diets and vegan diets. A vegan diet is one in which only fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans are consumed and excludes all animal products, which include all meat, cheese, eggs, and even honey. A vegetarian diet is one that excludes animal meat, but may allow the consumption of other animal products like eggs, milk, and cheese. A lacto-vegetarian is a person that consumes principally plants, but may include milk and cheese in their diet. An ovo-vegetarian is a person that consumes mostly plants, but may include eggs in their diet. There are some diets that are mostly plant-based, but include small amounts of meat, such as fish or poultry. A pescetarian is a person who is vegetarian, but eats small amounts of fish.

This shows a collection of products included in a plant-based diet.

vegetarian diet, vegan diet

Having a plant-based diet does pose some constraints, for example, availability; sometimes your diet depends on what is available, and not all people have the ability to acquire the resources needed to support these types of diets. In some areas around the world, however, it is more common to see plant-based products and therefore is the default diet. Many exquisite culinary cultures and practices worldwide are predominantly plant-based, and have been for centuries. Ethiopian, Israeli, and Indian cuisines are all very plant-based, and Israel has the highest population of vegans globally. Many religious practices have traditions in which members abstain from eating meats, such as the Ital food made and consumed by Rastafari groups in Jamaica.

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  • 1:38 Health Benefits
  • 3:04 Why Choose This Lifestyle?
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Vegan vs. Vegetarian Health Benefits

There are many benefits of both vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. Because both are plant-based diets, they both have similar effects on both the body and the planet. Having a plant-based diet lowers the risk of heart disease, because plant-based foods are low in saturated fats and are high in heart-healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals essential for life. Eating a plant-based diet can also lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, and certain cancers. Eating a plant-based diet can also increase the intake of phytochemicals, which are beneficial compounds produced by plants, and have a number of positive effects on the body. This section will explore the many benefits of both diets.

Vegetarian Health Benefits

There are many health benefits of vegetarian diets. By excluding meat, people who have vegetarian diets have a lower chance of developing cardiovascular diseases. This is due to the fact that vegetarians often eat not only more plant products, which are rich in vitamins and minerals, but are also eating a wider range of plant products. This may include whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes as sources of protein, and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. These foods are low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Additionally, a diet lower in cholesterol may prevent kidney and gallstones.

Another benefit is that vegetarians may live longer lives, according to a 2014 study. There are other factors that may increase longevity, as vegetarians, and vegans for that matter, are more likely to exercise, practice mindfulness, and typically do not smoke or drink alcohol, which all are factors that increase life expectancies in people. There is evidence to suggest that a plant-based diet does increase the longevity of life, however, even if other factors play a role as well.

A third benefit to eating a vegetarian diet is that it lowers the risk of obesity and offers a diet that is complete in nutritional value. A vegetarian diet has a lower caloric intake, and therefore may help people achieve a weight goal or maintain ideal body weight. Vegetarian diets also have a more complete nutritional value, as opposed to a vegan diet which may exclude vital micro and macronutrients. Because a vegetarian diet includes some animal products, vegetarians are still getting those nutrients that come from animal products, such as vitamin B-12.

Vegan Health Benefits

There are many benefits to veganism. Many are the same as a vegetarian diet, with a few notable exceptions. Vegan diets also provide people with health benefits such as a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. People who follow vegan diets also report an increase in weight loss. Of course, going vegan does not automatically cause people to lose weight, as all bodies are different and it is still possible to eat weight-gaining foods that are plant-based. But because plant-based foods are lower in fats and cholesterol, studies show that a vegan diet is effective in controlling weight gain.

Another health benefit reported by folks who are vegans is an increase in mindful eating. Mindful eating is the practice of being intentional with the foods we eat connecting to the experience of eating. Mindful eating is a practice used for some weight-loss interventions, and also to develop a healthier relationship to food. Because vegans have to be selective about the foods they eat, vegans are often by default more intentional and conscious of the foods they eat. This can develop into mindfulness, which studies have shown is a beneficial practice.

Vegetarian Lifestyle

A vegetarian lifestyle can be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on the circumstance and the situation. There are some common pros and cons about this lifestyle, and they are as follows.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the health benefits of eating a vegan diet?

Health benefits of eating a vegan diet include lower risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes because vegan diets have lower levels of saturated fats and cholesterol. Vegan diets also can lower risk of some types of cancer.

Is it healthier to be a vegetarian?

Studies show numerous health benefits of eating a vegetarian diet. These include a lower risk of heart diseases, obesity and diabetes, along with some types of cancer. Eating a vegetarian diet also can be part of a weight-loss regimen.

What are the pros of being a vegetarian?

Pros include health benefits, such as lowering your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, along with some forms of cancer. Following plant-based diets also reduce a person's environmental impact.

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