Sure, they may sound kind of similar, but the terms vegan and vegetarian refer to two pretty different styles of eating. If you—or anyone you know—has been tossing the terms around interchangeably, hit pause and read on to find out what differentiates one plant-based diet from the other.
A vegetarian doesn’t eat animals. Beef, pork, seafood, and poultry—basically, any creature that once lived—are all off the table.
You’ll find different types of vegetarians: Lacto-vegetarians do dairy, but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians ditch the dairy but keep the eggs.
And then there are vegans.
In addition to not eating animals, vegans remove any and all animal byproducts or foods/drinks that involve animals in their processing mechanisms. Dairy (milks, yogurts, cheeses, creams), eggs, and honey are the most obvious foods that come to mind, but the list of off-limits items also includes gelatin (a protein derived from pork; you’ll find it in products like Jell-O and gummy candies) or lard (found in pie crusts and refried beans, for example).
Vegans also often extend their animal-free choices beyond their diet to other aspects of their lives, opting for fur- and leather-free clothing, or beauty products that haven’t been animal-tested.
Not all vegetarians and vegans will follow the same diets down to a T. Like any other eating style, individual preferences can vary and what works for one vegan may not work for another. But if you’re wondering whether a product is vegan or vegetarian, here’s a good rule of thumb:
If it was once living, it’s not suitable for vegetarians.
If it has anything to do with an animal, living or dead, it’s not suitable for vegans.
Confused about what the heck vegans can eat? Check out our full guide to veganism!