Explained: There Is a Difference Between Vegan and Plant-based

There is often an assumption that vegan and plant-based mean the same thing. The terms are related but there is a difference and it is important to understand what that difference is.

VEGAN is a lifestyle and moral view that animals are fellow sentient beings not to be eaten, worn, tested on, or exploited in any way for human use which extends beyond food and includes the likes of fashion, makeup, cars, pharmaceuticals, lab testing, investments, and entertainment like vegans are against zoos or circuses that use animals.

Vegan food is any food that does not contain any animal-based ingredients nor has ingredients that were tested on animals.

PLANT-BASED is a diet, a style of eating foods from plants primarily in their whole form and avoiding animal-based foods. Whole, plant-based foods are vegan, but vegan food does not have to be whole foods.

The key phrase is whole foods meaning foods in their most original form, and even better if it’s organic because you avoid the toxic synthetic pesticides. In a whole foods, plant-based diet, the bulk of your food comes straight from the ground or tree, is loaded with fibrous vegetables and fruit and is minimally processed like pasta, 4-ingredient bread, oatmeal, a jar of organic tomato sauce, or pre-made soup. Most of us do not have the time nor patience to make things like bread, pizza dough, soup or pasta from scratch and that is okay.

Eating vegan also does not automatically mean healthy either. You can eat vegan for the day and not eat one vegetable, fruit, legume, or whole grain. MSG, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and even Crisco is vegan. Whereas, eating whole food, plant-based is ideal for creating healthiness and can help reverse lifestyle-created chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Let’s look at some examples.

In this first example, here is a whole day of eating vegan which you will notice is almost void of any whole foods except lettuce and tomato in a burger, and a small amount of chili on fries. There is a donut and latte for breakfast. A vegan margarita pizza for lunch. A veggie burger with chili fries for dinner, and a brownie and chocolate ice cream for dessert.

You can completely avoid eating any animal-based foods and still gain weight, get heart disease, become diabetic, be constipated, and have high cholesterol among many other chronic health issues. One of the reasons people who go vegan and experience health issues is because they are eating more like this which is indeed free of animals but is loaded with processed sugar, fat, and sodium and lacking in key nutrients.

Now, here is an example of a day eating whole foods, plant-based. This example is loaded with vegetables, fruit, starch and whole grains. There is overnight oats made with maple pecan milk, figs, pecans and granola for breakfast. Thai red curry with spiralized sweet potato noodles, carrots, broccoli, tofu, and cilantro for lunch. A one pot bulgur with bok choy, cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms for dinner, and fresh strawberries for dessert.

See the difference now? You want to eat more like the latter than the former. The ideal approach for health is eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, but also don’t feel like you have to completely deprive yourself either because food should be a pleasure which includes indulgence from time to time.

Being a reformed yo-yo dieter, I find that forbidding foods puts you emotionally into that diet mentality of deprivation and just makes you want it more versus getting your body naturally used to a new eating style so you just no longer have any taste or desire for those decadent or highly processed foods. Your palate adapts to what you feed it the most.

If you can eat foods that support your health goals 80-90% of the time, and leave the rest for indulgence, that’s great. That’s the formula I follow because it’s flexible which is another reason the Flexitarian style of eating resonates with me. I dropped 40 lbs, and have kept it off for 10 years now without having to diet any more.

Here’s an example of one of my 80/20 days. Breakfast is a big green, carrot and cherry tomato salad with figs, nuts and sprouted beans. Lunch is Amy’s organic vegan fast food of burger, chili fries and mac n cheez (I split this with a friend.) Dinner is a black bean tamale with beans, rice, avocado and fresh tomato salsa, and dessert is some plums. I drink organic soda like 1-3 times a year because sometimes I like a soda with burgers or I want a rum and cola or Seagram’s 7 and lime soda.


You’ll see the word “plant-based” being used more in marketing because for consumers who are still meat eaters, the word “vegan” can be a turn-off whereas “plant-based” is more about an ingredient view versus a moral view.

Depending on how they are made because there are so many methods now, the meat, dairy and egg alternatives are vegan, low carbon, and/or plant-based but are also not automatically considered health foods just because they do not contain animals, cholesterol, trans fats or GMOs. Some of these alternatives can contain significant amounts of sodium, sugar, fat, gums and preservatives.

The Whole Foods Market list of Unacceptable Ingredients For Food is a great reference to use for cutting way down on the artificial and overly processed ingredients.



I like to do combos of things when I do eat the meat alternatives. In my meal above, is sweet and sour pork using Gardein’s Porkless Bites served with  organic brown Jasmine fried rice, and sauteed sugar snap peas with shiitake mushrooms and onions.

Look for plant-based milks that are low in sugar. The vegan meats and cheeses should be treated more like transitional foods to help you wean from the animal-based meats and cheeses, or eaten on occasion versus everyday at every meal.

My blog includes the meat, dairy, and egg alternatives because  although I promote a more whole foods, plant-based diet, I also know how challenging it is to transition. I’m more about progress versus perfection even if it takes you a longer amount of time to make the shift. The important thing is that you are taking action which is better than doing zero!






What Does Plant-Forward Mean?

Plant-forward is the perspective of putting plants in the center of the plate. It’s a  “more plants, less meat” approach which puts plants at the center of the plate and does not exclude meat, dairy, and eggs, but does prioritize low carbon proteins.

When entrees include meat, the plants – vegetables and fruits (produce), legumes, whole grains, starches, tofu, herbs, and nuts and seeds – are the stars like this example of Corned Beef and Cabbage where I made the star roasted carrots and the Corned Beef comes in sausage form and cooked as crumbles mixed in with the cabbage.

A plant-forward diet also means eating primarily whole foods and plant-based, vegetable-centric.

I promote the plant-forward flexitarian approach of eating mostly plants with meat on occasion because it is a more doable thing for more people. The ability to have flexibility is far more appealing than going cold turkey (pun intended) on the meat, dairy and eggs. Going flexitarian is a great way to transition to becoming a vegan or vegetarian.

Along with Flexitarian, plant-forward styles of eating include the Mediterranean diet, VB6 – vegan til 6, eating vegan or vegetarian Monday through Friday, or going Pescatarian – a vegetarian who eats seafood.

In the U.S, our custom with food is to make meat, dairy, and eggs the stars prioritizing them over the plant-based foods. For example, typically on menus the meat is stated first like braised pork with potato hash, sizzling beef with snow peas, or BBQ chicken with baked beans. When was the last time you saw something on a menu like Quinoa salad and black beans with carnitas, or a regular restaurant where the vegan and vegetarian dishes dominated the menu?

The Plant-Forward perspective swaps the American habit of putting animal-based foods first and puts plant-based foods first instead. The driving motivation for eating a plant-forward diet is for health and sustainability reasons with more people wanting to actively do their part to help stop climate change and further environmental destruction.

Plant-based proteins like beans, tempeh, and lentils have fiber, no cholesterol or saturated fats, and contain no antibiotics or growth hormones. These foods also have a small carbon footprint helping to stop climate change and create less environmental damage and environmental injustice.

Eating more plant-based also helps to boost your fiber and nutrient intake. A common nutrition issue with Americans is eating too much protein and not enough fiber in the form of fruits and vegetables. There is no such thing as protein deficiency in the U.S.

In this table from the USDA that charts out what the average American citizen actually eats versus the U.S. Dietary  Recommendations, vegetable and fruit consumption are about half the recommendations, and meat, eggs, and nuts is nearly 40% over with grains being a little over by 10%.

One thing I find interesting about this USDA chart is that it does not include beans or legumes at all which is a primary source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Since rice was eliminated from the Grains data, that leaves wheat, corn, barley and oats.

Like many, the idea of going vegan or vegetarian seemed like too much change for me, and knowing how my Inner Resistance Monster works if I tried to go cold turkey with the meat, the monster would rebel because he doesn’t like big changes leaping out of my comfort zone. I really liked the idea of going flexitarian because reducing my meat intake is more doable for me, and I like the “flexible” part. My Inner Resistance Monster is also cool with gradual change versus radical change.

My initial goal was to work up to an 80/20 split of plants/animals.

So, 7 years ago I started the process of gradually reducing my meat consumption when I stopped eating chicken after seeing the documentary Food Inc. I then spent a few years taking on Mark Bittman’s approach of eating vegan before 6, or just eating meat in only one meal of the day, and then I added on doing Meatless Monday. Soon I was eating meat only 4 days a week, then 2 days, and then only when I felt a craving.

Last year, I decided to do a #100daysmeatfree challenge which I ended up doing for a full 365 days completing my first year meat-free. I gave myself 5 free days to eat meat if I wanted to but the challenge proved to be much easier than I was expecting. The only animal-based food I eat now is patis which is Filipino fish sauce, and that is only when I am eating my mom’s food like her Pinakbet in the photo collage above or when I am at a family event. The Filipino in me isn’t ready to give up the patis yet and there is no good vegan alternative (yet.)

Because I made my transition gradual, the process was less painful. I never felt deprived. I was able to socially adapt along with the people around me. I inspired my mom, an avid meat-eater to cut out the pork and shrimp in some of our favorite Filipino dishes which was HUGE. I didn’t even ask her. She just noticed I was eating less meat and more veggies.

Now, I’ve arrived at the point where I don’t even miss meat and love the abundance of vegetables, legumes, and grains more. I also feel good that I am no longer contributing to the destruction of the planet and humans ability to live on the planet as well as saving the lives of countless animals.

I hope that I can help inspire you to have a similar experience because it really does feel good physically, emotionally, and mentally to eat more plant-based. Let’s move forward together!



What Are Clean Proteins?

The macronutrient that has the most impact on climate change and the environment is protein. Because factory farming is impacting climate change more than the entire transportation sector, we have to reframe the protein story.

Clean Proteins are akin to Clean Energy. They are proteins that are produced with low carbon and low eco footprints like vegetables, legumes, soy, nuts, protein alternatives, and a new segment called Clean Meat which is creating meat or seafood using animal DNA. The burger in the header photo is the new Impossible Burger, the plant-based burger that bleeds.

In the world of healthy living, clean proteins are typically viewed as proteins free of antibiotics, pesticides, GMOs, and heavy metals as well as being a whole food versus a highly processed food like an organic pork chop versus SPAM from Hormel. But now because of industrial animal agriculture’s significant impact on climate change and the environment, the context of Clean Proteins has to expand to include sustainability and environmental impact much like Clean Energy sources.

Besides antibiotics, pesticides, GMOs, and heavy metals, Clean Proteins factor in carbon and eco footprint including greenhouse gas emissions, waste, deforestation, ocean depletion, wildlife extinction, and resource usage: water, land, and feed.

It’s an exciting time for food and product innovation in the Clean Proteins space.

Clean Proteins are delicious

Ideally, it’s best to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, but transitioning away from the meat experience can be a process so the meat alternatives are a great transition food. In my collage, here are examples of some cool and delicious plant-based meat Clean Proteins.

  • On the top is a Fusilli tomato sauce pasta using the Field Roast Italian Sausage. Besides great in pasta, this sausage is awesome grilled and smothered with grilled onions and peppers in a bun.
  • Going clockwise is a sweet and sour pork made from seitan from one of my favorite Asian vegan restaurants called Loving Hut. I was blown away how close this seitan tasted to real pork.
  • On the bottom left are kabobs I made using Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger meat. I let the patties thaw until soft and then I added my kabob ingredients and shaped them into kabobs for cooking. The possibilities are endless with plant-based beef.
  • And lastly, I’ve been having fun experimenting making Filipino food. Here is a Filipino adobo I made using Gardein’s Teriyaki Chick’n Strips. The teriyaki sauce comes in a separate packet so you can use the plain chick’n in anything. FUN!

As you can see with these quick examples that you will not be deprived of the pleasures of meat.

In fact, you get to keep the taste and texture of meat knowing that no animal had to die, you’ve shrunk your carbon footprint, no rainforests were destroyed, no GMOs were used to make your meat, and you didn’t eat any cholesterol and got some fiber with your plant-based meat. WIN!


For optimal health, and sticking to the lowest carbon footprints of Clean Proteins, keep your diet primarily focused on whole foods like this meal featuring Rojo Domingo beans, Jimmy Nardello peppers, and ginger, turmeric brown rice, and this delicious Tofu triangles with peanut sauce recipe from Mayo Clinic with a side of brown Jasmine rice and braised mustard greens.

Tofu is a healthy food that is perfectly fine if you stick to organic soy and eat it occasionally like you would have done with steak during the week. Better yet, the fermented soy foods like tempeh and natto have additional nutritional benefits.

If you’re concerned about soy, 99% of broiler chickens are raised in factory farms and their diet is almost entirely GMO soy and corn. U.S. chicken are literally made of GMO feed. To avoid that, be sure to buy organic chicken.

High to Low carbon proteins

I created this handy chart to give you a visual of how big the carbon footprint is for top protein sources, and then I grouped them from Low to High carbon footprint to make it easier for you to make more impactful choices.

One of the tricks that helped me reduce my beef consumption was to treat beef like cheesecake. I only ate it on a rare occassion. In the Plant-based Meat line is the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger, two new plant-based beef products that are now available countrywide in grocery stores (Beyond Burger only) and restaurants.


The good news about Clean Proteins is that they have important health benefits that meat does not. I added some nutritional information to the chart to point out some of those benefits like plant-based proteins have little to no cholesterol, and little to no saturated fat compared to animal sources. The Clean proteins also have fiber which meat has none.

One of the benefits of creating protein alternatives is that the good stuff can be designed in and the bad stuff can be taken out like the example of the Beyond Burger compared to 80/20 ground beef. With the Beyond Burger you get the taste and texture of ground beef with no cholesterol, 3g of fiber, and half the saturated fat plus all the environmental and climate action benefits.

When you prioritize Clean Proteins in your diet, you boost your health and do your part to make the world a better place to live for people, animal, and planet.












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