Differences Between the Diets: Vegan, Plant-Based, Keto and Mediterranean

Dear Friends,

Later this week we’re getting to the good stuff — how to customize your own diet so you will have something manageable that you can stick to for the long haul. Ahead of that I wanted to do a post where I talk about some of the most common diets out there right now, and compare them to their healthier alternatives.

First up — Vegan vs. Plant-Based

When you step back and look at the basics, these appear to be the same thing. The root of each diet is total elimination of all animal-based foods. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. However, there is a pretty big difference between the two.

The traditional vegan diet does mean no animal-based foods are allowed. Another major point to the vegan diet that does not necessarily apply to the plant-based diet is that the use of leather and fur in clothing are also not allowed, as well as choosing only products that are not tested on animals. The reason for this is that veganism has as much to do with protection of animals overall as it does with health and nutrition.

From a health perspective, the vegan diet may fall short of the plant-based diet for one major reason — it isn’t focused on nutrition. With a vegan diet, you can technically eat as much junk food and processed food as you want, so long as it doesn’t contain meat, dairy or eggs. You can pound potato chips, eat Oreos every single day, and chase each meal with soda if you wish. They also make very expensive meat and cheese substitutes/replacements that are geared toward the vegan community, most of which are usually highly-processed.

With a plant-based diet, the focus is on a well-balanced diet that provides your body’s much-needed nutrition, and eliminates animal products due to their negative impact on health. Chips, Oreos and soda are all on the chopping block of a plant-based diet, because processed foods, added sugars, and foods fried in oils are not a part of this diet. Instead, meals are centered around beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fresh veggies and fruits. Meat and cheese replacements can absolutely be a part of this diet as well, but the focus is less on replacing meat and cheese with something that looks and tastes the same, and more on eating as many whole foods as possible.

There is no reason these two diets can’t be blended. A vegan who cares strongly about animal rights can absolutely be a plant-based vegan who cares just as much about nutrition, for example. I’m not hating on the vegan community by any means, I just wanted to point out the differences specifically for those focused on getting their health and nutrition on track. Also, if you choose to go entirely vegan or plant-based, it will be worth it to look into some B-vitamin supplements as well, as that tends to be the main nutrient that gets short-circuited on a fully plant-based diet.

There is no reason you can’t eliminate animal proteins entirely and be completely nutritionally-balanced. In fact, it is my belief that a completely plant-based diet is the healthiest diet you can follow. The only reason I don’t follow this one myself is because I really like cheese and seafood, and I believe that consuming those things in moderation will not be detrimental to your health. I also believe that a diet that restricts you from things you love 100% of the time will create a struggle and may ultimately lead to failure.

Next up — Keto vs. Mediterranean

Just to be clear out of the gate, these two diets are definitely not as closely linked as vegan and plant-based. In fact, in their primary purpose they are quite opposite.

The main goal of Keto (or Atkins, etc.) is to reduce carbs and increase fat. The specific reason for this with Keto is to shock your body into burning its fat for energy, or in other words put your body into a state of ketosis. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, is very much carb-friendly, with one caveat — the carbs have to be whole grain and minimally processed. These carbs are high energy producers and have a lot more fiber than their counterparts, meaning they are processed more quickly by the body, used for the fuel they are intended to provide, and most of what is unused is expelled as waste. It is not converted to glucose like simple carbohydrates are.

When it comes to fats, both diets are strong proponents of fat. However, on Keto, any fat goes. That includes saturated and trans fats. You can eat a double-bacon-cheeseburger drowned in ranch dressing, for example, as long as you don’t eat the bun. On the Mediterranean Diet, your fat is comprised of healthy fats, meaning they are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that help lower your cholesterol and keep your circulatory system clean and healthy. So a fatty meal on this diet may consist of a salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing, topped with sliced avocado and a piece of salmon. Olive oil and avocado are excellent sources of the afore-mentioned fats, and salmon is the best source available of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

So similar to the vegan diet, the focus of Keto is not on health or nutrition. Rather, it is a weight-loss plan that is not intended to be followed long-term. The Mediterranean Diet, on the other hand, provides excellent weight loss assistance while also focusing on nutrition and long-term maintenance. It is largely centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts (just like the plant-based diet), but also allows for healthy oil, seafood, and poultry and dairy in moderation; red meats and sugar are minimal.

So if you are following Keto for weight loss, my recommendation would be to follow Mediterranean overall, but keep the grains and fruit minimal upfront until you’ve had some good weight loss success. This way you aren’t compromising your health in order to lose weight – you can have the best of both worlds.

Wrapping Up

This post is more brief than the last have been, but I felt it was pretty easy to get to the point on this topic. Next up on Thursday this week — we will discuss how to customize a diet that fits your needs!

After that:

  • Mediterranean Monday (recipe to be determined)
  • Meal planning, creating a shopping list, and prepping food
  • Decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy products
  • Breaking patterns to learn how to cook and eat healthy
  • Resources to help you find products and recipes, so you can get on track and stay on track

I will see you again on Thursday!


Photo Cred: Harvard Health

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