How to know the difference between a vegan and a plant-based diet

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The wide variety of dietary lifestyles today can be pretty tricky to navigate. People are becoming continuously more conscious about what they’re putting inside of their bodies — and for very different reasons.  Some choose a certain way of eating to feel clean and energized while others might base their diet purely on moral or environmental reasoning. Two diets that are often confused with one another are the vegan diet and the plant-based diet. You might think they’re the same, but the two diets come with completely different mentalities.

The Vegan Diet

Usually, you go vegan for a specific ethical or environmental reason. Living a vegan lifestyle means eliminating all animal products from your life, including meat, eggs and dairy. When you do a vegan diet in a balanced way, it can lead to long-term benefits like weight loss, a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and a lower risk of developing or dying from cancer. But it’s also pretty easy to mess up.

You have to get creative with a vegan diet to make sure you’re getting enough protein, calcium, iron and all of those other naturally-occurring essential vitamins and minerals that come from animal-based products. And keep in mind that vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. You could live your life eating nothing but Doritos and pasta and you’d be considered a vegan.

The Plant-Based Diet

You might think “plant-based” is a fancier phrase for “vegan,” but it’s completely different in intention. A plant-based diet is focused on eating whole fruits, vegetables and grains (whole meaning in its natural state) while minimizing your intake of animal products and processed foods specifically for health-related reasons.

When we say plant-based foods, we’re referring to fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, legumes (like beans), tubers (like potatoes), nuts, seeds, grains and mushrooms. While refined foods like all-purpose flour, sugar, oil and junk food technically may have come from a plant at some point and contain no animal products, they still aren’t considered plant-based foods or ingredients.

The plant-based diet goes far beyond avoiding animal products. When you’re plant-based, you’re looking for foods that are organic and smartly sourced, rather than just working around animal products. Vegans might eat a slice of pizza with dairy-free cheese because it works around animal products, while someone who’s plant-based wouldn’t because the ingredients aren’t considered plant-based or whole ingredients.

Merging The Two

The only time the two lifestyles overlap is when someone is sticking to a healthy vegan diet that focuses on eating more whole, natural foods that haven’t been overly processed. When you’re vegan and you’re forced to be creative about your meals, you might end up eating more plant-based foods without even trying.

Bottom line: The plant-based diet focuses on ingredient quality, while a vegan diet focuses on avoiding animal products at all costs, even if that means reaching for refined and processed ingredients. 

This article originally appeared on Swirled.