This question is just similar to “what is the difference between father and son?” because vegan diet is basically a part of vegetarian diet but with some unique features of its own. In simple words, all vegans are vegetarians but all vegetarians are not vegan.
Difference between vegetarian and vegan diet
Definition – vegetarian diet is a diet which doesn’t include meat (or animal flesh) and it is divided into four classes on the basis of pant based food and animal derived food preferences. These are:
- Lacto vegetarian diet (include milk and dairy products)
- Lacto ovo vegetarian diet (includes milk, dairy products and eggs)
- Ovo vegetarian diet (include eggs only)
- Vegan diet (include plant based food only)
As you can see, vegan is a distinct class of vegetarian diet which strictly includes plant based food and excludes any animal derived product like meat, egg, poultry, fish, sea food, milk and dairy products. The first three classes are collectively known as semi – vegetarian diet because it partially includes animal derived products.
Reasons – the dietary habits were highly influenced by the climate and religion factor of the country in earlier times but the scenario has changed these days. With the increase in globalization, dietary preferences are changing rapidly and now many people are becoming vegetarian even in western countries where non vegetarian diet was dominating for decades. The reason behind taking up a vegetarian diet by many people is its health benefits and political beliefs that animals should not be killed in order to fill our stomach while vegan diet is generally based on the ethical and political belief that animals should be protected by the law and order of the country.
Health benefits – vegetarian diet has many health benefits like it prevents from meat related health risks like food contamination which occurs in raw and processed food, parasites e.g. tapeworm in pork, cancer (many meat products use chemical preservatives which have carcinogenic properties), strokes, diabetes, osteoporosis and kidney stones. But some of the animal derived food sources used in vegetarian diet such as eggs or dairy product can cause allergy in hypersensitive people. But vegan diet has reported to be very good at eliminating food allergens like dairy products, shell fish etc.
Nutritional value – the nutritional value of vegetarian diet is more than vegan diet because it offers a complete range of nutrients from different sources. The different classes of vegetarian diet consist of eggs, milk and dairy products which provide the nutrients which are not found in plant based food such as vitamin B12 and essential amino acids. Since vegan diet is also part of vegetarian diet therefore it also offers many nutrients but it often lacks in vitamin B12, essential amino acids, DHA, iron and vitamin D and you need to take supplements in order to meet these essential nutrient requirements.
How to increase the nutritional value of vegan diet?
This vitamin is commonly found in meat, seafood, eggs, milk and dairy products but if you are on a vegan diet then you are probably missing a required amount of this vitamin. Here are some food suggestions for vegans to get adequate amount of vitamin B12 without eating animal derived food:
- Try to consume vitamin B12 fortified food 2 – 3 times a day
- You can take vitamin B12 supplement if you can’t take it during your meals or when you have special requirement as in case of old age, pregnancy or nursing a baby.
- Don’t take excess amount of Folate supplements as it can hide the vitamin B12 deficiency
- Get your vitamin B12 level checked by a physician.
It is required for proper functioning of bones and muscles but this mineral is found in very negligible amount in vegan diet. You can increase the calcium in your vegan diet by
- Drink calcium fortified juices or soy milk
- Consume calcium rich foods like tofu, kale, mustard greens, collards, blackstrap molasses
- Take calcium supplements if you can’t take calcium rich foods
This is a very essential mineral as its deficiency can significantly reduce your stamina and physical activity. If you are a vegan then you can meet your daily iron requirements by consuming iron rich food like chickpeas, lentils, beans, fortified cereals, fortified oatmeal, tofu and wheat.
It is important for healthy bones, cardiovascular system, lowering of blood pressure in case of hypertension, osteoporosis and in preventing many diseases. You can expose your body to sunlight for 10 – 15 minutes so that your body can synthesize enough vitamin D. the other resources to get this vitamin are Shiitake mushroom, fortified orange juice and supplements.