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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Brandon Yew and Dr Eki Wari on October 25, 2022

Vegan VS Vegetarian: Which Diet Is Better For Your Health?

Learn about the vegan vs vegetarian diets here and how to make sure you're not lacking in any nutrients.

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There is perhaps no bigger debate among non-meat eaters about which diet is better – vegan vs vegetarian. Both help protect heart health. However, despite being similar in nature, these two diets have several key differences.

According to a recent survey, approximately one in 10 Americans say they don’t eat meat. However, there is room for nutritional errors in both vegan and vegetarian diets.

No matter which diet you decide to follow, make sure you read this guide on vegan vs vegetarian to make sure you’re getting the most out of your food.

Vegan vs Vegetarian: What’s the Difference? 

A Laco-vegetarian diet is a mostly plant-based diet that allows milk and dairy products.

Veganism is a type of vegetarianism where a person strictly only consumes food and uses products from plant sources. All vegetarians share one common denominator – they do not eat animal meat in any form. There are three types of vegetarian diets.

The most restrictive is the vegan diet, which allows foods from purely plant sources. A Lacto-vegetarian diet allows for the consumption of milk and dairy products in addition to plant sources of food. And finally, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian eats the same things as a Lacto-vegetarian, plus eggs. 

For many vegetarians, this historically has roots in religion. The fundamental moral basis for vegetarianism is the concept of non-violence. Animals aren’t slaughtered as food.

The vegan diet takes it a step further. All animal-related products are prohibited, even if the animal is not killed. Vegans don’t consume root vegetables and tubers because this destroys the plant and doesn’t allow it to regenerate.

Health Benefits of Vegan vs Vegetarian Diets 

Many later-life adherents to vegetarian diets adopt this restriction for health improvement. Research shows that vegetarian diets decrease the risks of some people developing certain ailments, such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

A 2018 study confirmed that vegetarians tend to have a lower risk of unhealthy body fat percentage and abdominal obesity. The study also confirms that, for the most part, vegetarians consume sufficient calories, as do non-vegetarians.

Vegan vs vegetarian diet nutritional deficiencies

Eating a wide variety of foods can help address nutritional deficiencies.

Those who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet must be careful not to become deficient in certain nutrients found primarily or exclusively in animal meats and products. These include calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and certain essential amino acids. Fortunately, these can be balanced through supplementation.

Know the nutritional value of different plant-based foods. Be sure to incorporate different food groups (protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits, grains, and healthy fats) to ensure adequate nutritional balance.

Which Diet Does TCM Think Is Better?

“From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, it is best not to eschew a certain food group,” Real Health Senior TCM Physician Brandon Yew advises.

The ancient text, Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine, which is referred to by TCM practitioners today, states, “Grains as nutrition, fruits as a supplement, meats as enhancement, vegetables as fulfillment. Together they form a synergistic combination that benefits our life essence.” TCM prefers a lacto-ovo-vegetarian over a vegan diet. 

“In TCM, meat and animal products possess a close affinity to the Blood and flesh. They provide powerful restoration and nourishment of the yin (cooling energy and body fluids), blood, jing (vital essence), flesh, muscles, sinews (tendons and ligaments), bones, and skin. Hence, those on a vegetarian and vegan diet are at high risk of suffering from Deficiencies in yin, Blood, and jing,” Physician Yew elaborates. 

Supporting plant diets with herbal remedies

Good sources of plant-based protein include beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Fortunately, TCM offers some herbal formulas to help with these Deficiencies:

  • Gui Pi Tang helps regenerate qi and Blood
  • Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan regenerates yin and jing to nourish the Kidneys

Medicinal mushrooms, such as Cordyceps and Lingzhi, are suitable products for vegetarians and plant-based eaters. Research shows they can help boost immunity, support energy levels, and reduce stress.

Bird’s nest provides an excellent source of amino acids to support protein synthesis in the body. It is suitable for vegetarian but not vegan diets.

Never try to self-medicate and always consult a TCM practitioner before taking herbal formulas.

Physician Yew recommends a dietary approach that ensures a more all-rounded balanced diet. He suggests these four options:

For those who still prefer to become vegetarian or want to go vegan, start slowly. Gradually removing prohibited food groups is easier than trying to change drastically. 

Whether you choose to go vegan vs vegetarian, it comes down to personal beliefs and dietary choices. Do adequate research on the diet you want to pursue. Consult a dietician or TCM physician to ensure that whatever diet you embrace provides you with sufficient nutrients.

References

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