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What's The Difference Between Vegan and Whole Food Plant Based?

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

Vegan and whole-food plant-based (WFPB) are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences that separate these two lifestyle diets from each other.

Vegan refers to refraining from eating any food of an animal origin. Plant-based has a much wider range of definitions. Similar to vegan, it can also mean refraining from foods of animal origin. However, it could also mean simply adding more plants to your diet.

As long as it's not made with animal products, it's safe for vegans to eat. This could mean eating whole plant-based foods or it could mean eating processed foods like potato chips or Oreo cookies since there are no animal derivatives in the manufacturing of these foods (but that doesn't make them healthy!). Those following a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet only, or mostly, eat whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. They typically avoid or minimally eat processed food.

In terms of lifestyle, vegans may also refrain from buying items made of animal origin. Veganism refers to avoiding animal cruelty in any way—from clothes to skincare to home goods. WFPB may be rooted in this as well but is typically driven by a large emphasis on the health aspect. The two tend to overlap, but vegans may be more ethically-driven than WFPB.

Benefits of WFPB

Research shows that eating WFPB may reverse or prevent many diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. It can also have positive lifestyle effects such as improved energy, digestion and sleep. Plant-forward is a term given to those who simply want to incorporate more plants into their diet, but not necessarily eat 100 percent plant-based. This is still beneficial! Just adding more plants into the diet not only has great health benefits but is also a step in the right direction for reducing the carbon footprint. In fact, 20 servings of vegetables have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one serving of beef. Whether it be for health, animals, or the environment—eating more plants is beneficial.

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My name is Margaret Peterson, and I am in the nutrition coordinated program at Georgia State University. I am earning a Master’s degree in Health Science, and completing supervised practice hours to become a Registered Dietitian. In my free time, I enjoy working out, going to concerts, and trying new spots around Atlanta. My goal is to start private practice when I finish my program, but I also have an interest in working in a clinical setting. I chose to pursue a career in nutrition because I believe the foundation of a healthy life starts with the diet. My goal is to help people find the best diet for them individually, in order to feel comfortable and confident with the nutrition aspect of overall wellness.


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