Plant-Based vs. Vegan: Which Diet Is Best for Your Health?

Plant-Based vs. Vegan: Which Diet Is Best for Your Health?

Embracing a whole food plant-based lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your health. Sadly, there’s a good deal of confusion out there preventing people from living longer, healthier lives.

There are three closely-related diets which many people have a hard time sorting out:

  • Vegan
  • Plant-Based
  • Whole Food Plant-Based

Each of these options have benefits, but the third offers the purest, clearest approach to healthy eating.

Once you see the distinctions clearly, you’re empowered to follow the whole food plant-based diet (WFPB) and enjoy its incredible health benefits.

Let’s start here. What’s the difference between vegan and plant-based?

Difference between vegan vs plant-based diet

Image source: Forks Over Knives

Many people conflate enjoying a plant-based lifestyle with veganism, but that’s simply not always the case. A vegan diet completely eliminates any and all animal. This includes butter, animal milk, eggs, cheese and in many cases even honey because it’s made by bees. While there are many reasons why people turn to a vegan lifestyle, a majority of vegans abstain for ethical reasons.

Plant-based on the other hand, means that while most foods consumed comes from plants, animal products are not strictly verboten. Proponents of a plant-based lifestyle feel that when it comes to meat or other animal products, a small amount in moderation won’t negate the benefits of eating a diet rich with fruits, vegetables and healthy nuts and grains.

A quick history lesson on “plant-based”

Colin Campbell, PhD coined the term, “plant-based” in 1980 while researching the effects a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetable-based diet could have on cancer at the National Institutes of Health.

Campbell was on the lookout for a succinct term to describe this way of eating that was free from any ethical considerations. After Campbell later testified against the supplement industry, “whole-food” was added to specify that it was whole plant-based foods, not just isolated nutrients, that had the greatest health benefits.  ,

What do plant-based people eat?

Plant-Based Meals

If you’re new to plant-based eating, you might expect to feel limited in the types of foods you can eat, but those who subscribe to a plant-based lifestyle eat a variety of foods!

Obviously, they consume lots of fresh fruits and veggies, but that’s certainly not all. Grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are all part of a whole food plant-based lifestyle.

Some people who love eating plant-based might even still enjoy occasional meat or dairy products! Many feel that the overall benefits of choosing a mostly plant-based way of life won’t be undone by a piece of cheese now and then.

Ok, but what does whole food plant-based mean?

While fans of both vegan and plant-based lifestyles consume tons of veggies and other healthy foods, they also enjoy processed animal product substitutes from time to time. Think of Beyond or Impossible burgers (fake meats), plant-based sausages, egg substitutes and vegan cheeses.

A whole-food, plant-based diet, on the other hand, focuses on whole, unrefined or minimally-refined plant foods. In short, if it has been created instead of harvested, it’s not in line with a whole food lifestyle.

Whole food plant-based devotees also exclude meat, eggs, cheese and other dairy products, as well as highly refined foods like oils, bleached flour and refined sugar.

So, why is the whole food plant-based option the healthiest?

Minimizing your intake of meat and other animal products like dairy is an excellent choice for heart health. However, just because it’s not meat, it doesn’t mean that everything labeled plant-based is the best option for you.

Lots of processed vegan and plant-based products, like meat substitutes, are full of saturated fat, preservatives and additives. Oil, which we now know is simply not healthy for us no matter the type of oil, is another common ingredient in processed vegan and plant-based foods.

The best thing we can do for our health is to focus on eating oil-free, low-sodium food made with whole, fresh ingredients, and the whole food plant-based approach rejects the processed options allowed by the other two diets.

Can you be vegan AND whole food plant-based?

Yes! It’s not just possible, but quite common to be both vegan and whole food plant-based! The whole food plant-based lifestyle is vegan in essence, but it also leaves behind processed food substitutes often embraced by vegans like fake cheese or factory-made veggie burgers. It also avoids all artificial ingredients and refined ingredients like oils, refined sugars, and flours.

Veggie burgers are a great example to help understand the difference. While a vegan might use a factory-made, engineered meat substitute, someone eating whole food plant-based will make their veggie burger fresh with whole ingredients like legumes, mushrooms, onions, and other plant-based components that give it a similar flavor and texture to meat without using processed “tricks.”

Also, many people adopt a whole food plant-based diet for similar reasons as vegans. They want to avoid contributing to animal cruelty or reduce their impact on the environment by avoiding animal products.

Overcome the Challenges of Eating Whole Food Plant-Based

challenges of eating wfpb

Ok, so now that you understand the advantages of the whole food plant-based lifestyle, we’re here to help you break down - and overcome - some of the challenges you may face when you take the plunge.

    1. Finding complete protein sources

    The vital protein that our bodies need is made up molecule chains called, amino acids. While there are 20 amino acids out there that we can use to build protein, only 9 of them are considered essential. Because our bodies don’t produce them on their own, we need to get these from food. Animal proteins actually contain all 9 of these amino acids in amounts sufficient enough to keep one properly fueled.

      While all 9 amino acids are also available in plants (yay!), most often plants contain smaller amounts of one or more of them (boo), causing some to believe that plant foods are not “complete” proteins. But the joke’s on them! Making sure to eat a varied diet of plant-based foods provides you with all the protein you need!

      1. Finding alternatives for dairy and meat
      • Meat- You have great options. Jackfruit is great for plant-based BBQ. Black beans make great burgers, and tempeh “bacon” is great in a salad or sandwich.
      • Milk- Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last decade or so, it would have been hard to miss the rise of nut-based milks. Hemp, soy, cashew, almond - you name it, and someone has figured out how to milk it!
      • Cheese- Nutritional yeast is also great sprinkled on veggies or used to make a vegan mac and “cheese”.
      • Eggs- Looking for some plant-based brunch options? Tofu is a great alternative for making scrambles, but depending on what you need, an egg substitute like aquafaba can be used instead.
      1. Dining out
      For those just getting their feet wet with whole food plant-based, it may seem daunting to go out to restaurants where you won’t have control of the menu or food prep. Never fear, there are several steps you can take to ensure you’re able to find something you’ll be able to enjoy!

        First, do a little prep work. Look up the menu online to see if they have menu items that meet your specifications. Give them a call, let them know your guidelines, and ask if they have any recommendations or accommodations available.

        This could also be a great opportunity to introduce your friends to something new! A lot of omnivores don’t even realize how delicious and satisfying whole food plant-based recipes can be and may be very pleasantly surprised!

        1. Social pressures
        It can be tricky to stand strong in your convictions when other people chime in with their own opinions of their choices. Perhaps your healthy lifestyle makes them feel badly about their own choices or maybe they don’t understand that this is your way of life and not just a fad. Whatever the reason, chances are someone close to you may give you a little bit of grief about what you are (and aren’t) eating.

          Just remember your “why”. Fielding a few snarky comments are nothing when you know you’re on the path to lifelong health. Who knows, your glowing skin and energizer bunny energy level could even inspire your loved ones to make healthy changes of their own!

          1. Expense
          Another common roadblock for people wanting to commit to a whole food plant-based way of living is the expense. Isn’t it more expensive to eat plant-based foods all the time? It’s actually not! Eating things like oats, grains, legumes and in-season produce actually saves you money.

            Looking for inspiration?

            Whole Harvest Plant Based Meals

            Check out these whole food plant-based recipes created by our incredible chefs! We have tons of recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

            At Whole Harvest, we’re here to help you stay on track by offering a wide variety of whole food plant-based recipes and meals to choose from delivered right to your door.

            All of our meals are shipped fresh (never frozen) ensuring you receive the highest quality and healthiest food possible.

            Whole Harvest is an industry leader in innovation and creativity in oil-free, whole food plant- based cooking. Featuring a mix of reimagined comfort foods and international flavors, we provide our members with incredible variety and vibrant flavors throughout the week.

            Best of all, everything is ready to eat! There’s no cooking, just enjoy right away or heat-and-eat hot entrees. We’re passionate about making it easier for people around the nation to enjoy the benefits of a whole food plan-based lifestyle.

            Whole Harvest is based out of North Kansas City, Missouri and Denver, Colorado, and we ship to almost everywhere in the U.S. for your convenience.  

            Check out our weekly menu and get started with Whole Harvest today!

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