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Flexitarian vs Vegetarian vs Vegan: What’s the Difference?

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Plants based diets are nothing new, but they have had a massive resurgence in popularity in the last decade. Whether it’s a moral reason behind not wanting to consume meat, a health choice or for the sake of the environment; there are a lot of reasons to change up your diet to more plants based and there are a lot of ways to do that. These diets are not, like many diets, based around the principal of weight loss but rather overall health, peace of mind and saving the animals. So what's the difference between the 3 main plant based diets; flexitarian vs vegetarian vs vegan?

Flexitarian Vs Vegetarian Vs Vegan: What’s The Difference? 

Today we are going to delve into three plant-based diets; vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian; to break down the difference between them all and whether they really are healthy and well-balanced diets.

Vegetarian 

This is the diet that has probably been around the longest and is self-explanatory; vegetarians eat no meat or fish whatsoever. You are however free to eat animal by products like eggs, milk and cheese but not something like gelatin as this is made using actual animal bones. This can be tricky as gelatin is used in a lot of snack foods like sweets so you should always be careful to read labels before purchasing anything. 

Flexitarian 

A flexitarian diet is the least restrictive of all these eating plans while still making an effort to cut down your meat consumption. This diet involves eating predominantly plant based with some meat and fish incorporated in moderation. There are no clear cut rules to follow but rather a set of guidelines that can lead you on your flexitarian path as this is mainly a lifestyle-based diet focused around healthy eating. Flexitarians mainly eat vegetables, legumes and whole grains and mainly get their protein from plants. As an added extra they also encourage you to eat less processed products and a limited amount of sugar and sweets, so you are eating as naturally as possible. 

flexitarian vs vegetarian vs vegan?

Vegan 

Veganism is the most restrictive of all these diets and is by far the most talked about in pop culture right now with is popularity beginning to grow in the early 2010s. Vegans consume no meat or fish whatsoever as well as eliminating any animal byproducts like dairy, eggs and gelatin. Due to the fact that this is such a drastic change from the omnivorous diets a lot of us consume vegans need to find some good substitutions for the vitamins and minerals that they may be missing out on to ensure they follow a balanced diet. Apart from dietary restrictions vegans also avoid using leather, fur or any other non-edible by product from the slaughtering of an animal. 

It is debated whether insect products like honey and silk are vegan, but the consensus seems to be that they are not suited to vegans, which is supported by the UK Vegan Society. This is because the animals are being put to work for human gain which is a big no-no in the vegan community. Another often not spoken about side of veganism is beer and wine. Unbeknownst to most people a lot of beer and wine is filtered through fish guts during their creation process making them unsuitable for vegans or vegetarians so be sure to check your next bottle before indulging in a glass of wine. 

There are two main types of vegans; ethical and environmental; which can work hand in hand or separately depending on your personal views and ethics. Ethical vegans, also known as moral vegans, do not believe in the use of animals in any context even when not being used for food and this sentiment carries on through to their treatment of others. Its all about kindness and no exploitation. Environmental vegans avoid animal products because of the effect that industrial farming has on the environment and how unsustainable these practices are.  

  • Vegetarian

    Flexitarian

    Vegan

  • restrictive

    least restrictive

    very restrictive

  • no meat and fish

    includes some meat and fish

    no meat and fish

  • better care for the environment

    moderate care for the environment

    best care for the environment

Are These Diets Healthy? 

Contrary to popular belief all of these diets can be healthy for any age group if it is well planned and executed with care. 

The main vitamins and minerals that you can miss out on by cutting out meat are vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc, riboflavin and omega 3 but there are ways to get around this. Here are a few easy substitutions (among others) that you can make to make up for these: 

flexitarian vs vegetarian vs vegan?
  • Protein– tofu, nuts and nut butters, beans, quinoa 
  • Iron– eggs (vegetarian and flexitarian), soy-based foods, legumes, nuts 
  • Calcium– cheese, yoghurt, milk (vegetarian and flexitarian), tofu, oranges, dark leafy greens 
  • Zinc– cheese, yoghurt and milk (vegetarian and flexitarian) soy, vegetarian meats, seeds, lentils 
  • B12– soy, some breakfast cereals, supplements 
  • Riboflavin– milk, yoghurt (vegetarian and flexitarian), almonds, mushrooms 
  • Omega 3– canola oil, ground flax seeds, walnuts 

In addition to these alternatives, it is also a good idea to take supplements, there are even special supplements on the market now that are specially designed for vegans. 

Why Is Eating Plant Based Better For The Environment? 

So why, since climate change is becoming a more and more talked about topic, is eating plant based better for the environment? Essentially it is about space and emissions.  

Producing a lot of meat means you need a lot of livestock and livestock need a lot of grazing room. This has caused a large amount of deforestation, soil degradation and increased water usage worldwide as the demand gets higher and higher. When it comes to emissions, we are literally talking about gasses produced by the animals themselves, which is mainly methane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Even the decaying manure itself releases methane and has been known to produce more nitrogen when used as a fertilizer.   


Flexitarian Vs Vegetarian Vs Vegan: Summing Up  

Just switching up your diet by eating plant based a few nights a week can make a huge impact, so even if you aren’t ready to go all the way there is much we can learn from these diets to help improve our world for the better. The next time you are grocery shopping why not consider adding a few more vegetables to your basket and help save the planet? 

Amy Hand
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