Both vegan diets and whole-foods plant-based diets have grown in popularity in recent years. Some people use these terms interchangeably, and others differentiate them strictly.
To understand what these terms mean, we’ll explore each of them individually. We’ll also discuss the difference between a vegan and a whole-foods plant-based diet (WFPB).
Before we get started
I want to address that with the term diet, I’m referring to a permanent change in eating habits. I am not talking about a quick and temporary fix/fad to archive a particular goal (f.e. weight loss).
Let’s begin 🤓.
What does it mean to eat vegan?
Vegans do not eat any products made from animals. So, they don’t consume meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, or seafood. Aside from that, there are no restrictions.
A vegan diet can consist mainly of legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, and nuts and seeds.
However, it could also be made up mostly from vegan meat and cheese alternatives, vegan hamburgers, vegan pizza, and so on.
Just because somebody eats vegan doesn’t automatically mean that they eat healthy.
The healthfulness of a vegan diet depends on how you implement it.
This leads us to the first significant difference between a vegan and a whole-foods plant-based diet. Eating vegan doesn’t imply following a healthy diet, whereas for those on WFPB, eating healthy is the primary goal.
Moreover, when someone considers themselves vegan, this definition usually goes beyond what they put on their plate; it also extends to their lifestyle choices.
So, vegans avoid not just eating foods made from animal products but also items made, even in part, from animals or that are tested on animals.
This includes shoes, clothes, accessories, makeup, cosmetics, and cleaners. The following materials are, among others, avoided: leather, silk, wool, gelatin, beeswax, lanolin, and down.
The most common motivation behind going vegan are ethical reasons, but environmental considerations are also frequent. Some go vegan because of health reasons as well.
Summary:Eating vegan means you avoid all animal products. So, they don’t consume meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, or seafood. Being vegan doesn’t imply that you also eat healthily. It all depends on how you implement it. Moreover, when someone considers themselves vegan, it usually goes beyond what they put on their plate. It also extends to their lifestyle choices.
What does it mean to eat whole-woods plant-based?
A whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) emphasizes eating plant foods that are unprocessed or only minimally processed.
So, practicing this way of eating usually means you consume mainly legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts & seeds.
Those on WFPB diets avoid/limit the consumption of all processed foods, such as vegan meat and cheese alternatives, processed grains, and vegetable oils.
Many on WFPB diets also consider themselves vegan (aka they avoid all animal products). However, the term itself is not as restrictive, allowing people to eat small amounts of animal products if they choose to.
The reason is that consuming small amounts of animal products most likely won’t negatively impact the health status of someone who practices a whole-foods plant-based diet most of the time (>95%).
This is the second significant difference between a vegan and a whole-foods plant-based diet. In contrast to the term vegan, the term WFPB isn’t as restrictive.
It allows room for those who want to eat mostly plant-based, but still want to eat animal products from time to time.
The motivation behind switching to a whole-foods plant-based diet is health. The goal is to prevent chronic diseases or possibly reverse chronic conditions a person already has.
Summary:A whole-foods plant-based (WFPB) emphasizes eating plant foods that are unprocessed or only minimally processed. You avoid/limit the consumption of all processed foods, such as vegan meat and cheese alternatives, processed grains, and vegetable oils. Many on WFPB diets also consider themselves vegan. However, the term itself is not as restrictive and allows room for those who want to eat mostly WFPB but still want to eat animal products from time to time.
Can you be vegan and whole-foods plant-based?
Yes, the terms do not need to be exclusive. You can be vegan and eat mostly whole foods. Or you can be whole-foods plant-based and eat entirely vegan (as well as expand to a fully vegan lifestyle).
Moreover, you may start out identifying yourself as one but then gradually become the other as well.
Maybe you went vegan for ethical reasons and thus ate mostly junk food. Then, later you adopted a whole-foods plant-based diet because of the added health benefits.
However, don’t get caught up in the terminology. It’s not necessary to label yourself at all. Labels can be both empowering and confining.
They can create connections and, concurrently, drive us apart. They can be useful to describe a set of values but also lead to judgment.
So use when they serve you and don’t mind them if they don’t. Plus, remember that labels are a part of a person and not all that they are.
Digression over. Let’s get back on topic:
I use the terms healthy vegan and whole-foods plant-based interchangeably. So, don’t be surprised or confused if you come across them both on this website.
The reason is that a healthy vegan diet will be made up almost entirely of whole-foods. Moreover, the advice and information on the site is also applicable to those on WFPB diets whether they eat entirely vegan.
In short, vegans stay away from all animal products. Some vegans eat mostly junk food, others try to eat as healthy as possible, and others find themselves somewhere in the middle.
Those on WFPB diets, on the other hand, focus on eating whole-foods almost exclusively, avoiding all highly processed foods like vegan meats & dairy alternatives, processed grains, and vegetable oils. Most eat entirely vegan, but some choose to eat small amounts of animal products.
Let’s visualize this all to get a better understanding:
If you want to eat a healthier vegan diet, you may find these resources helpful: