Whole-Food Plant Based Vs Vegan Diet

Image by Liz West

Image by Liz West

You may remember that I wrote an article a few weeks back sharing my reasons for eating a whole-food plant based diet.

The response was pretty positive, and the article was featured on the Teen VGN Blog, so thanks for that!

One thing you may have noticed in that article, and in others, is that I usually refrain from using the term ‘vegan diet’. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, but I thought I would just clear things up.

Yes, the diet I eat is vegan, but I thought I’d explain today why I lean towards describing it as ‘whole-food plant based’. It’s mainly to do with health implications and accessibility, which I’ll expand on hopefully in a non-preachy, non-high-horsey sort of way…

MY WHOLE-FOOD PLANT BASED DIET

Just to recap, my diet consists primarily of whole, plant foods.

Fresh fruits and veg, organic if possible; with some wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds thrown in as well. For the most part, I stay away processed foods. And at the moment I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal, as I’m pretty sure you can get the majority of the benefits found in animal products, via plants.

As I mentioned previously, I began experimenting with this way of eating in order to be healthier, and to become a better athlete.

Today I’m much more aware of the ethical and environmental impacts of my food choices, but originally I was in it for selfish reasons.

VEGANISM

For those of you who might be unsure, a vegan is someone who doesn’t consume any animal products – no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey. Nothing at all that comes from an animal. They also don’t wear leather, fur, and wool in some cases.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the vegan movement is great. 

Any lifestyle and dietary choice that eliminates suffering and significantly reduces our impact on the planet is a big step in the right direction. I have no beef with anyone who is in it just for the ethical and environmental reasons.

My main concern however, coming from a health and performance standpoint; is that a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily have to be one that promotes lasting wellness.

French fries, oils, fake meats, oreos, fizzy drinks – these are all vegan friendly foods. You could base your entire diet on them, chugging down all the oils and salt you want and never touching a fruit or veg, and still proudly claim to eat a vegan diet. But it doesn’t mean you’re gonna be healthy, or a better athlete. That’s a bit of an extreme example, but you get the jist. 

Some of the foods mentioned above can be great transition foods on the path to a plant based diet, but some vegans just get stuck on them, and convince themselves that they’re still healthy because they’re not eating any animals.

And this is where the danger lies. When the message spreads that any vegan diet is healthy, we could potentially end up with a lot of nutrient deficient people munching on oreos and fries and believing it’s good for them.

Veganism is all about compassion. But I think to be truly compassionate, you should show compassion towards your self, as well as the other species you’re protecting. This includes eating a diet that will nourish your body, and give you the best chance of being healthy.

Compassion is also about caring for the needs of other humans, not just yourself and other species. Whilst you could argue that eating a junk food vegan diet is humane in that no animals are harmed from it; what about the factory workers who slave away for long hours in unhealthy conditions to make your processed foods?

For compassion towards yourself and all living beings, you could choose a whole-food plant based diet, absent of processed foods, and animal products too. And go local and organic whenever you can.

It’s health promoting, and it just so happens that it can fall under the category vegan as well (in a dietary sense). In this case, you could be a very healthy vegan, and still contribute towards the ethical and environmental causes too.

PUBLIC APPEAL

My other slight issue with using the term vegan to describe the way I eat, is the appeal to the average person. 

I really wish it wasn’t the case, but for many people the word vegan conjures up the image of an unhealthy stereotype – the elitist, tofurky eating activist throwing paint on old people wearing fur. This negative connotation signifies the extreme – both in behaviour and dietary choices.

Whether this image is generated by media portrayal or false beliefs, unfortunately I think it sometimes turns the average person off finding more about the vegan or plant based diet.

They believe it’s like a a cult, or just another crazy fad. Veganism is quickly dismissed, and the person never gets the chance to find more about the health or performance benefits that are possible if it’s done the right way. They don’t get to see that eating a plant based diet can be just as easy as it is delicious.

If something seems hard or out of reach, the average person is less likely to conform. Most people respond better to a gradual change and a bit of flexibility, which can be done with a plant based diet; whereas the word vegan signifies a big shift and strict rules. They immediately start to think of the things they cannot eat.

If you instead follow a whole food plant based diet, you are defining your eating habits by what you do eat, rather than what you choose not to. To me it just sounds more accessible, and that’s the key to helping people establish healthy habits and make lasting changes.

ROUND UP

I still use the ‘v word’ from time to time out of convenience and habit. However, because the food we eat has such a powerful impact on our health, we may need to be careful not to mix our terms too much.

There’s already enough confusion in the world of nutrition, and it turns people off. If it seems too hard or too complicated, they will continue to settle with what they already know, and get no closer to reaching their health goals.

I want to make nutrition as clear and accessible as possible, so the maximum number of people can benefit and realise their full health potential.

Yes my diet is vegan, I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal; but I mainly eat whole foods. I eat lots of plants. I do it because it’s healthy and I enjoy it, and it’s simple to start implementing, whatever stage of the journey you’re at. Maybe it could work for you too?

Check out our FAQ page on eating a plant based diet, and take what resonates with you. Or try some of our healthy plant based, vegan recipes.

What’s your view on the whole-food plant based / vegan debate? Does it matter? Could you benefit from including more whole plant foods in your diet?

EDIT: Less than a year on from writing this article, things have changed quite a bit. Both my personal views, and the big picture.

You may have noticed lately on the blog, I’m pretty much using the terms vegan and plant based interchangeably. There’s a few reasons why.

It’s partly because I feel much more connected to the food I eat. It’s less about me now, and a bit more about how my choices can make a difference on a larger scale. The sustainability and ethical implications of my food choices have become increasingly important, just as much so now as health and performance. I’m much more about the vegan lifestyle, and I’m gradually phasing out any animal products altogether, including clothes and bathroom products.

Looking at the big picture, the vegan movement has gathered so much speed over the past year. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it’s becoming much more mainstream, which is awesome to see. I think the word vegan is less associated with that negative stereotype, and more people are aware of what it means. There’s less stigma attached to it, and I think it’s less off putting than it was just a few months ago.

So yeah, that’s where I’m at right now. The article above still holds true though to some degree. I still maintain though that although being vegan is a great choice, being a healthy one is even better, for everyone. But I think it’s easy to get caught up in the details and minutia.


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Luke Jones
Luke Jones is a mover, blogger and wellness enthusiast. He spends his time exploring and sharing ideas in mindful movement, healthy living and adventure.

41 Responses to “Whole-Food Plant Based Vs Vegan Diet

  • Love the distinction you make between vegan and healthy food. It’s so true and important to have a whole food approach to diet. Thank you for the article.

  • Reblogged this on Lady Holland and commented:
    A fantastic look into the plant-based verses Vegan label!

  • My thoughts are that the plant based diet has really has nothing to do with being vegan. The two are nothing alike. You can exist on an unhealthy vegan diet and an unhealthy “everything cooked in oil” plant based diet. The true distinction is that vegans are willing to stand up what they believe in and take the heat for their strict way of living. People who want to be known as plant based really are just in it for themselves which is cool…..Vegans generally have more balls in general when it comes to this whole topic. Kinda like owning a gun and not wanting to be an NRA member because of the stigma. For me your either in it or not….. But like the color red, there are many different shades of vegans….so really there is room for all under the umbrella…..Go Vegan….

    • typo “stand up for”

    • Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate your views, and the feedback.

      By a whole-food plant based diet, I meant to imply that there’s no processed foods at all – including oils. I think I probably should have made that a little clearer!

      I respect the vegan movement and completely agree with what it stands for, but I do think that image of the ‘strict way of living’ that you mentioned can turn some of the general public off. Not all of the time, but it does happen. They don’t get the chance to find out more about it, and experience a healthy vegan diet. That’s why personally I don’t like using the label as much…

      Keep up the great work on your blog by the way!

  • Well put! Exactly what I would say when you compared veganism vs a whole foods (plant-based) diet.

  • Well written!

    I mostly agree with your distinction of the terms, but I do think that they overlap more and more now. Since promoting a healthy plant-based/vegan diet together makes it much more attractive to the average person, with both the perks of health and ethics. But I do use Plant-Based more often because of the social stigma of “vegan”…

  • I really like this post! When I first began transitioning into vegetarianism, I made a point to myself to eat veggies–hence veggietarian. Since, I’ve broadened my diets horizon rather than shrunk it due to the wider variety of fruit and veg I eat now.

  • There are healthy vegan diets and unhealthy ones . . . yours sounds VERY healthy.

  • Excellent article, I think we all can relate to the various distinctions between the two diets. You can still be a “vegan” but reach for processed carbs, oils and sugars, but by eating a whole-food plant based diet, those aren’t really an option and you are in fact living and eating healthier because of it.

  • This is an excellent view on the extended/overuse of ‘vegan’, thank you for an enlightening post. I eat a high plant based diet and enjoy reaping the benefits of better skin, digestion and overall health.

    I believe the term vegan has taken a turn in regards to overuse in today’s health society and plant based or whole-food plant based terms could be more suitable to more situations. I still use the term vegan but have noticed over the last month the need to expand and try encouraging a wider variety of words to the vegan/plant based diets and lifestyles. Each person is individual and their are to many genres under veganism and I think it’s time for people to be more independent in some circumstances and share their view not always just tag or use the word vegan because it’s the trend of now.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  • I’m absolutely with you on that. When people ask me about my eating habits (and it happens a lot at work & school), I used to tell them I’m ating whole foods, plant based. Then they’d tyoically say “so you’re vegan then?!”, and while at first I’d explain the distinction, I gave up quickly and now just answer than I’m eating a vegan diet. Maybe I should go back to using the whole foods, plant based term.

  • Reblogged this on Healthy Hungry Herbivore and commented:
    Here’s a great post about the distinction between the terms “whole foods, plant based” and “vegan”. I used to describe my diet as a whole foods, plant based diet, but switched to using the term vegan because I was getting tired of explaining to people why I didn’t use vegan in the first place.
    Well, here’s a great explanation of just that, and I might just start using the whole foods, plant based diet term again.

  • Very nicely put! Now I would like to ask your opinion on how to switch over the terms. I started describing myself as vegan a couple years ago because that was my upgraded dietary choice (from vegetarian for 11 years) but after learning about the research surrounding a WFPB diet, I realized I wasn’t doing my health any good. So I switched. Yet I can’t get those who already know me as “vegan” to understand the difference. They bring / offer me chips or oreos or vegan cookies or oil-ridden hummus to gatherings thinking that it is something I can eat.

  • Love this. I just had a conversation with someone today about how eating a “vegan” diet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating a healthy diet. I just took the plunge into a whole-food plant based diet with no oil or added salt, my reasons stemming from health concerns. I’ve been trying to not use the term “vegan” for the same reasons you list here. My taste buds are still adjusting to the no salt, but it is SO worth it because I feel better than I ever have before. Really enjoying your blog.

  • You are right to say the food we eat has such a powerful impact on our health. It’s been proven that “clean and healthy eating” can do your body good. I believe illness is rampant because of stress and the way we eat. There’s a truth to the saying, “You are what you eat”. My sister completely eliminated meat and salt in her diet since she always experienced hypertension and she feels a whole lot better now. Really love this post. Thank you for sharing. Thank you as well for the follow. I look forward to exploring your wonderful blog soon. 🙂
    ~Anna

  • I’m very happy you cleared up the distinction between veganism and a whole foods diet. Vegans do come in all forms. I had a vegan friend who did fall into the fried and unhealthy foods category. He made a big deal about not eating any animal bi-products but cared about little else in his diet.

    I’ve been experimenting with a whole foods diet, at least two-thirds of my total meals for the day, but not quite yet mentally prepared to take the entire plunge (I really love fish :).

  • Love this! These are the exact reasons I tend to use plant-based diet, instead of Vegan. It’s all about being healthy and feeding your body optimal nutrients.

  • Kimberley
    4 years ago

    I like the approach of defining ourselves by what we eat (whole-foods plant-based) rather than by what we don’t (vegan).

  • Great post delineating the difference between WFPBN (whole foods plant based nutrition) and vegan ism. I named my business Vegan Sailing but it’s much more accurately described as “WFPBN Sailing.” I sure wouldn’t mind changing the name to more accurately emphasize the healthy benefits of my sailing vacation offering, but what would I call it? Whole Foods Sailing? Plant Based Sailing? Healthy Eating Sailing? I welcome any linguistic ideas to capture the essence of WFPBN in one or two words.

    • Thanks Captain Dave! Really cool blog and business you’ve got going there.

      I like Plant Based Sailing, but how about Plant Powered Sailing?

  • Very informative, thank you.

  • “They also don’t wear leather, fur, and wool in some cases”

    Sorry to be finicky but this “in some cases” isn’t true – the definition of vegan is someone who abstains from animal products.

    It makes me sad that people are afraid to use the term vegan but I do understand your motivation for doing so. Still, if it becomes more widely used I believe it will seem more accessible too.

    • Hey Sarah, thanks for your comment!

      I do agree with you, and my views have definitely changed a little since writing this article at the start of the year.

      Originally I was in it for mainly selfish reasons – for my own health and performance. And I also thought that staying away from the word vegan would maybe make things a bit more accessible to the masses. Almost as if I could trick them into eating a healthy vegan diet, without actually telling them…

      But over time I’ve become a lot more interested in the bigger picture – sustainability and animal welfare. Those things have become equally important as the health and performance aspects.

      And I think over the last year the word ‘vegan’ has maybe lost some of the stigma that has maybe been attached to it in the past. It’s become a bit more widely recognised, which is awesome. So I think I’m less afraid to use the term now than I was back then.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Luke

  • Tallulah
    3 years ago

    Though I’m not vegan I do agree with you a lot…I really value whole foods, health, ethical foods and sustainability, and don’t think those things and eating meat are mutually exclusive. I’m not great at it at the moment (mainly due to being a poor student) but I’m here to get better. Might check out some of your recipes 🙂

  • Very nice written!

  • Plant-based diet is extremely healthy, since I transitioned I started a recipe blog, there’s now 100 + strictly plant-based recipes: http://manoloramiro.blogspot.com/

  • Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I&;8712#ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any tips for novice blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it.

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