The Differences Between Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian

More and more people are basing their diet on plant foods and may claim to be either vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian. Do you know what's the difference? 
The Differences Between Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian
Florencia Villafañe

Written and verified by the nutritionist Florencia Villafañe.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

You may have heard the terms vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian and might not really understand what they mean. They all seem to be about eating plant-based food, so what’s the difference? Continue reading to find out.

Fruit and vegetables have a priority in this kind of eating preference. Many people adopt it out of respect for animals or due to some other environmental concern. Continue reading to find out more about this subject.

The difference between being vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian

These dietary styles are on the rise for many varied reasons. There are distinctive characteristics with which to describe the consumption and life practices of each group. Let’s find out what they are.


These people base their diet entirely on fruit and vegetables. That is, they don’t consume animal products such as dairy and their derivates, eggs, or honey. However, the term “vegan” goes beyond this and actually refers to a lifestyle that includes a specific way of eating.

It arises from the ethical and moral reasoning that all species are equal. Thus, vegans repudiate animal abuse and exploitation and don’t use products that are either animal derivates or made by companies who experiment with animals.

They’re also against other forms of animal exploitation such as zoos, horse races, circuses, and rodeos, among others. In addition, they’re aware of the environmental impact generated by livestock farms.

In relation to this, several studies have shown that livestock farming also exploits natural resources massively, enhances the greenhouse effect, acidifies soils, and accumulates excess waste in rivers and seas.

A roasted salad.
Vegan diets completely exclude animal products.

Read about How to teach your child to take care of the environment


This kind of diet is based on plant-food but also includes dairy products, eggs, and honey. In this respect, meats and their derivatives are the only ones that are completely excluded.

According to Sociedad Argentina de Nutrition, there may be different subgroups within this group. The best-known one is ovo-lacto vegetarianism, although there’s also ovo-vegetarianism which excludes milk and its derivatives. In addition, there’s lacto-vegetarianism, and the people who adhere to it skip the eggs.

Some people adopt vegetarianism for life and some of them may do so because they aspire to do without all animal products. One can say this is a rather necessary transition to reach veganism.


This style of eating is about flexibility. In fact, this group includes all of those people who, in general, follow a vegetarian diet, but sometimes agree to eat meat.

This group includes those who don’t always eat meat or who prefer one type of it over another. It’s also usually the first step for those who are trying to adopt a vegetarian diet.

As you can see, this lifestyle has gained the most ground in recent times. In fact, you may be a flexitarian without even knowing it. Let’s note that this kind of lifestyle doesn’t consider eating animals a transgression and, thus, it doesn’t lead to guilt.

Are these eating preferences safe?

Years ago people believed that diets that didn’t contain animal products lacked significant nutrients. However, scientific evidence suggests that even a properly planned vegan diet lacks vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is the result of the synthesis of microorganisms that inhabit the intestines of animals. It’s for this reason that the only food sources that contain it are meat, eggs, milk, and its derivatives. The daily quantities recommended by professionals aren’t met in vegetarian and flexitarian diets, despite the fact that people in this group sometimes eat animal products.

Consequently, prolonged deficiency of this vitamin could cause anemia, defects in the nervous system, delay in the development of the fetus, memory loss, and other complications in these people. This is why doctors recommend supplements in order to try to prevent any complications.

A vegan burger.
This type of diet can lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12, which one can obtain from artificial supplements.

The difference between vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian

As you can see, these styles of eating are quite different. We could say flexitarianism is the beginning of a lifestyle that can progress to vegetarianism, and then to veganism if you like. However, a person can skip these steps and go directly there.

Finally, whatever your diet might be, you must plan it carefully, to ensure it’s well-balanced and that you’ll get all the nutrients you need. It’ll lead to future deficiencies and health problems otherwise. Always consult your doctor or nutritionist for advice.

Thanks for reading.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science360(6392), 987-992.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.