In reading many articles, including some posted on this blog, it appears as if the words plant-based and vegan can be used interchangeably, but there are differences between these two diets and lifestyles. Both are allies in making a better, kinder, more sustainable world, however, of the two, my Mom and I identify as plant-based. In this post, I'll tell you why.
A Plant-based Diet Focuses on Health
The plant-based diet is a scientific approach to health and illness prevention or reversal. It has been used by physicians to treat chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and many others. The recommendation to eliminate animal protein (meat and dairy) is based on scientific research about what is best for our bodies, and the diet also omits other things, such as refined sugar, oil, and processed foods, which are not supportive to heath and are not whole, plant foods.
People on a plant-based diet experience lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar levels, lower rates of cancer, and maintain a healthy weight without much effort. This is because plant foods have high nutritional value and high fiber that helps for healthy digestion and elimination. The diet is also low in saturated fat which is why it is so heart healthy.
A Plant-based Diet Eliminates the Use of Processed Foods
A plant-based diet is all about whole, one-ingredient foods. If asparagus had a nutritional label, it would say "Ingredients: Asparagus." Better yet, try to only eat foods without labels. That's the plant-based diet.
There are a lot of vegan products out there for people who are ethical-only vegans (eating vegan for animal justice and not for health) and are happy to replace mayonnaise with Vegannaise or butter with Earth Balance, but these products are not health products. They use artery-clogging oils, have a high-caloric content, are difficult to digest, and can lead to weight-gain and other health issues and are not part of a plant-based diet.
However, there are a lot of really health conscious vegan products out there that are mostly whole and help us all manage life in an imperfect world with many new-world expectations—like having to have a meal ready in 5 minutes, or having dinner on your 10-minute walk to class. Some vegan brands that I like are Vigilant Eats Superfood Cereal, Go Raw Granola, So Delicious Coconut Milk, Greens Plus Bars, Pilot Kombucha, and Harmless Harvest Coconut Water.
In reality, it often happens that we crave a cookie (when not at home to make a plant-based batch), or need a lunch on the go, or are at a restaurant with a group of friends with less than perfect options. In these situations, vegan options might possibly be more accessible to us than a strictly plant-based option and, if so, that's a much better trade off than going completely back to an animal protein. So there is a fine line and no diet is perfect. But a plant-based diet strives to eat whole and healthy the majority of the time. The more you eat this diet, the less you will find old cravings to be relevant.
A Vegan Diet Begins with Ending Animal Cruelty
Animals are sweet, soulful, and hugely important, but not just because they are food. A lot of vegans eliminate consuming animal products, because they do not want to be part of the systems that reduce animals to commerce and commodities forcing some into extinction. Many vegans do not just stop eating animals, but they also stop wearing animals (wool, fur, leather, down, etc.), and they do not use beauty products where animals were used in testing. Most vegans seek out all sorts of alternatives to avoid putting money towards animal cruelty.
You will find most plant-based eaters taking similar actions because animal-commerce is not about human health. There are human wellness concerns associated to the attempts made to mass produce animal protein for profit, such as hormones being given to bovines for increased milk consumption. Those hormones reach our bodies too. Environmental devastation caused by factor farming threatens our farmland, air quality, and ocean eco-systems, which turn into issues of health as well as social justice in some cases.
There are many crossovers and both diets are kind, but the beginning of a plant-based diet is eating for health, whereas a vegan would start a vegan diet for animal justice specifically.
Veganism is Typically More Known
If I say at a restaurant that I'm vegan, hopefully people in the food industry know that it means I eat a diet free of meat and dairy, however, plant-based requires a bit more explanation. It's the same for me in social settings too. I find myself using the word vegan to start, but if it looks like I have more time to talk or am getting some interest back from the person I'm conversing with, then I bring up my plant-based diet and my reasoning.
If you meet any opposition, the best thing I've found is just saying something like, "I feel better when I eat this way," or, "It's working for me." No one can really dispute that.
And, in truth, I DO feel better eating plant-based. I have way more energy and much improved digestion.
Try for Yourself and Feel the Difference
If you are thinking about going plant-based, just try it for a few weeks and see how YOU feel. Do you have more energy, better digestion, clearer skin, sleeping better?
Just think about eating one-ingredient foods to start. Then take those one-ingredient foods, chop them up, and put them in a bowl with lettuce, and you have a plant-based salad. Or, chop up a little onion and garlic, potatoes, carrots, and kale and add it to a pot of veggie broth, and you have soup. Go to a farmer's market or store and pick out what you know you like to eat. Substitute them into some of our recipes.
Eventually you'll start trying new foods and quickly you'll realize that there are enough plant-based foods for a whole diet and that they are satisfying.