Neither vegans nor vegetarians eat meat. However, while vegetarians tend to consume dairy products and eggs, a vegan avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and often inedible animal-based products, such as leather, wool, and silk. Vegetarianism is usually a diet, while veganism is a lifestyle. Vegetarians often choose their diet based on its reported health benefits or for religious or political reasons. In general, vegans have much stronger political beliefs regarding their diet, with some believing animals should be protected under many of the same laws that humans are.
Most vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, but they tend to consume dairy products (especially vegetarians in India) and eggs. Many vegetarians also do not eat products that contain gelatin or other animal-based products. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, but not eggs; ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but not dairy products; and lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs as well as dairy products. There is also pescetarianism, a vegetarian-like diet that avoids meat and poultry but does include fish.
The vegan diet tends to be much stricter than most vegetarians’ diets. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and all other animal-based products, like honey, are entirely avoided. Moreover, any food or other (sometimes inedible) product that makes use of animals is avoided. This often extends to clothing, medicines, and anything else in which animals or animal products are used. For example, a vegan would not use leather shoes or belts, cosmetics that have been tested on animals, down comforters, gelatin medicine capsules, woolen sweaters, or fur coats.
Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are staples of both the vegan and vegetarian diets. Sometimes tofu is used as a replacement for meat-based products.
In general, most studies show vegans and vegetarians are as healthy, if not healthier than, their meat-eating counterparts. Veganism, in particular, is very good at eliminating common food allergens, such as shellfish and dairy. A plant-based diet is high in complex carbs from whole grains and root vegetables, such as potatoes and carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, etc.
There is ongoing study of the advantages and disadvantages of the vegan and vegetarian diets. Many studies have found cardiovascular benefits to both diets, and some suggest there is a lower risk of cancer among vegans and vegetarians.
An extensive study published in June 2013 shows that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters and are 19% less likely to die from heart disease. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association, was covered by the Wall Street Journal. Other key findings from the study include:
- Vegetarians in the study experienced 12% fewer deaths over the period of the study (six years), during which 73,308 people were tracked.
- There appeared to be fewer deaths in the vegetarian group from diabetes and kidney failure.
- Caloric intake didn’t seem to matter. The different participant groups generally ate around the same amount of calories daily.
- The vegetarian advantage appeared stronger in men than women.
- Cancer struck both the vegetarians and non-vegetarians in roughly equal measure.
A rebuttal of the media reports of this study argues that correlation does not imply causation, and that the longer life span of vegetarians found in the study could also be attributed to the fact that the vegetarian group tended to exercise more, be married, consume less alcohol, and smoke less compared with the meat-eating group.
Overall, determining whether these diets directly affect long-term health outcomes is difficult. The different types of vegetarians are rarely studied against each other, for instance, and vegans and vegetarians often tend to be more affluent or health-conscious, both of which positively affect long-term outcomes.
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