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Vegetarian and vegan

What's the difference?

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally balanced and health promoting for young people. However it is very important to not simply avoid animal products, but to substitute them with nutritious alternatives such as dairy foods, eggs, pulses, nuts, seeds and cereals.

A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat or poultry (chicken, duck, turkey, etc.) but eats eggs and milk products (cheese, yoghurt, butter and so on).
A vegan is someone who does not eat any food that comes from an animal, this means cutting out meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, most cheeses and yoghurts, butter and foods that contain these ingredients.

How to achieve a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet

  • The current recommendations on healthy eating are to reduce fat (specifically trans fat), sugar and refined salt intake and to eat more fruit, vegetables and fibre. This can also be achieved by following a vegetarian diet. 
  • Foods provide different nutrients to help your body to stay healthy. No single food contains all the nutrients in the amounts needed, so you will need to eat a variety of different foods to ensure you get all the energy and vitality you need. The four main food shelves of the food pyramid group foods together containing similar nutrients. A healthy vegetarian diet should include a variety of foods. According to the food pyramid, the top shelf contains foods, which are high in fat and sugars and should be used sparingly.
  • Special care must be taken at times of extra need, such as during adolescence, during pregnancy or during illness to ensure an adequate intake of all nutrients to maintain health.
  • Check out Safefood for a wide range of vegetarian recipes and nutritional advice. 
Healthy Ireland Food Pyramid

Vegan alternatives

It can be a bit more complicated to source vegan alternatives than to suss vegetarian ones, so here’s the lowdown:

  • Dairy substitutes: You can buy a variety of milks in health food stores such as rice milks, oat milks and soy milks. You might not think to consider coconut milk, but this is an extremely healthy beverage filled with a certain type of fat called MCT’s. MCT’s are fantastic for digestion and metabolism. Coconut itself is anti fungal and great for general health. You can buy coconut milk in any supermarket or Asian shop. Coconut oil can also be used as a spread instead of butter. If it's cheese you are after, there is lots of rice and soy cheeses available.
  • Eggs: If you are baking sweet foods such as cake, applesauce can be used as a replacement. For savoury use, most health food shops also sell egg replacer products.
  • Sweeteners: Many vegans do not eat sucrose because when sugar cane is refined from its plant source, it is passed through activated charcoal, which may be of animal origin. Alternative vegan sweeteners include xylitol, maple syrup, raw cane sugar, brown rice syrup, and stevia. Honey is of course always subject to debate as to its vegan status.
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Published January 4th, 2013
Last updated March 21st, 2017
Tags food health balanced diet vegetarian
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