Vegan or Vegetarian?: A Quick Guide

We are lucky to live in a time and place where food is so bountiful that we can decide not to eat entire portions of the now outdated food pyramid. (As a vegetarian, I am required to know how to poke fun at myself). Switching to a vegetarian diet can be daunting, but if you’d like to some help replacing some of the meaty bits in your meals, try The Food Substitutions Bible.

But what is a vegetarian? Much debate has taken place over the characteristics of a “true vegetarian” and because of this, many veggie-purists are careful with their diet terminology. If you’ve been confused by or are simply unfamiliar with “veggie terminology”, I’ve prepared a quick guide for you.

Vegetarians don’t eat anything that requires an animal to die in order for their food to be prepared. That means no meat: red meat, game, poultry, or fish. Eggs and dairy are often a part of a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians may further distinguish their preferences using terms like “ovo-vegetarian” (eggs, no dairy) or “lacto-vegetarian” (dairy, no eggs). If someone tells you that they are an “ovo-lacto-vegetarian” they’re just telling you they’re not vegan. A healthy vegetarian diet includes eating a lot of whole fruits, vegetables, yogurt, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

But wait! I have a friend who’s vegetarian and he eats fish!
Well, he’s a Pescatarian/Pescetarian.

Pescatarians will sometimes call themselves “vegetarians” for simplicity’s sake. They keep to a vegetarian diet, but also consume creatures from the sea (e.g. fish, squid, clams, etc.). Pescatarianism is often considered one of the healthiest diets because of the abundance of omega-3 fatty acid found in fish.

Vegans choose to abstain from consuming any animal (or insect) products. This diet requires knowing the ins and outs of your food and its preparation. For instance, a vegan wouldn’t eat honey or gelatin. Some vegans will also avoid white sugar and anything made with it. Vegans love unpackaged grains, fruits, and veggies. Knowing how to prepare vegan meals in a satisfying way may convince you of how simple it can be. Try Vegan Cooking for Carnivores and tell me you’re not impressed with how a diet that seems so restrictive is actually quite delicious.

Raw Vegans take it a step further by also paying attention to how food is processed for consumption. A raw vegan eats raw, unprocessed, organic foods that have not been cooked (or heated above 116 °F). Some raw vegans prefer that the plants providing their nutrition continues to live despite the harvesting of its fruits.

Vegetarianism and Veganism are plant-based diets that individuals may choose for health, religious, and/or animal-rights related reasons. No matter your reason, a plant-based diet is essential to healthy living.

I hope you found this guide helpful. Eat well and be well!

Aryn is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch and has been with HCLS for over 3 years. She has many hobbies including, but not excluded to: exercising, vegetarian living, and eating cake. Perhaps cake is neither “well” nor “wise” but it’s certainly delicious!