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What’s The Difference Between Plant-Based, Vegetarian And Vegan?

Confused about the difference between plant-based, vegetarian and vegan diets? Here it is explained in plain english with what you need to look out for!
Updated on Jul 14, 2022
  Meat Poultry Seafood


and Fish





Eggs Honey
Vegan x x x x x x
Vegetarian x x x
Pescatarian x x


in small amounts, occasionally


in small amounts, occasionally


in small amounts, occasionally


in small amounts, occasionally

Plant-based diets

Plant-based diets are an eating pattern that focuses mainly on eating plants including fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It is often used as an umbrella term for many different eating styles including vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian and even includes the Mediterranean diet even though it contains a small amount of fish, meat and dairy. This way of eating that centres upon plant-based foods is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease as plant-based foods are low in saturated fat, in addition to being rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

While “plant-based” is often used interchangeably with a vegan diet, individuals may be “plant-based” but not vegan. Many individuals choose to follow a plant-based diet for ethical reasons (animal cruelty), environmental sustainability or health concerns.

Vegetarian diets

Vegetarian diets (also known as lacto-vegetarian) include eggs and dairy but exclude meat, poultry, fish and seafood. The other variations of a vegetarian diet are pescatarian (includes fish, seafood, eggs and dairy, fish only) and ovo-vegetarian (includes eggs only).

Vegan diets

Vegan diets include all animal products and by-products such as honey, royal jelly, gelatin, whey, collagen, casein, lactose, fish-based omega 3 supplements and certain food additives and flavourings derived from animal products.

Refined white sugar in other countries can be made with animal-derived bone char, however, this does not occur in sugar produced in Australia. Veganism is a way of living based on animal rights that extends to all areas of their life, not just their diet! This includes a focus on ethical consumption and sustainability when it comes to diet, skincare, clothing and entertainment.

Navigating the supermarket: What to look for?

Following a vegan or vegetarian diet closely often requires a good knack for reading food labels, and you might just find yourself standing in the middle of the aisle for half an hour reading labels.

1. Scanning the ingredients list is your best bet for making sure you don’t accidently purchase an item that contains animal products

If animal-products are present in a product in detectable amounts, food companies are legally required to include it in the ingredients list. For example, Aeroplane Jelly and Woolworths Jelly have listed gelatine (beef origin) on all its products. On the other hand, Queen Jel-it-in Vegetarian Gelling Powder that can used to create jelly is completely free of animal products and would be suitable for vegetarian and vegans.  Whilst there is more demand for vegan products, many companies label their products as “vegetarian” or “plant-based” as the term vegan still remains controversial.

  • Casein, whey powder and lactose – These are all derived from milk products.
  • Albumin – is a water-soluble protein found in milk and eggs.
  • Gelatin – made from the bones, tendons, ligaments and/or skin of animals.
  • E901 additive- beeswax
  • E966 additive – lactitol made from milk sugar

2. The Shortcut: Search for “Vegetarian or Vegan” labels

I bet you’ve seen Vegetarian-friendly written on the front of food packages but are they accurate?

In Australia and New Zealand, vegetarian or vegan labels on packages are a voluntary claim. Food manufacturers using this label are subjected by fair trading law and food laws and can face heavy penalties for using labels that are misleading or deceptive. Therefore, searching for “Certified Vegan” or “Suitable for Vegetarians and Vegans” is an easy way to spot new products.

The catch?

Australian Food Standards Code does not require non-allergenic processing aids to be declared in the label.

Processing aids can be natural or synthetic substances that help with manufacturing food items and are considered extremely safe. They are often used to improve the nutritional quality and food safety, extend the shelf-life, make the product easier to pack and transport, and improve the consistency and quality of the product.

For example, apple juice may use gelatin to eliminate suspended particles and stabilise added beta-carotene, but this is not required to be on the label. Gelatin is made from the bones, tendons, ligaments and/or skin of animals. In this instance, the gelatin is added to help filter the protein haze but as the gelatin is filtered out and not present in the end product, it is not required to be listed on the ingredients list.

In the last decade, there has been a strong movement towards more plant-based foods and consumers demand for transparency, with Heinz Australia receiving backlash for using beef-based gelatin as a clarifying agent. This has led to many Australian companies ensuring that their products do not include any animal-based products in the production or end-product.

3. Allergen Labelling. What about “may contain X?”

Looking out for allergen labels can also be helpful as milk, eggs, fish, seafood and royal jelly (made from bees) are animal products that are also common allergies in Australia. Therefore, all packaged foods containing these ingredients, components of processing aids or components of food additives must be labelled according.[1] For example, Nescafe chai latte mixes say “Contains: Milk” as it includes whey powder and skim milk powder.

“May Contain” Labels are voluntary statements that are added as a precaution if traces of allergens may be present due to cross-contamination from shared equipment, storage or handling. This is important for individuals with allergies to know, but if you are not allergic then foods that “may contain” a listed animal product are still considered vegetarian or vegan.

4. Which tricky foods should vegetarians and vegans look out for?

Truth is, there’s not enough time in the day to read every single label for every brand and it’s frustrating to read the back of every packet to find that none of them are vegan-friendly. To save you precious time and eyestrain, we’ve listed products that often contain animal products. You might be surprised! Don’t worry, we’ve also listed vegan-friendly alternatives!

Brioche buns Most breads are vegan, including raisin toast! Tip Top, Helga’s, Macro, Sunblest and Abbott’s Village are all vegan! Although most commercially made breads are free from animal products, brioche is similar to pastry in that it often contains eggs, milk and butter. Brioche is a rich and versatile bread that is suitable for vegetarians and can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
  • A vegan-friendly option would be Fry’s Artisan Bakery 100% Vegan Brioche Burger Buns
Pancake Mixes Standard pancake mixes from brands such as Greens and White Wings contain milk solids.
  • Vegan-friendly and gluten-free option is: Orgran Buckwheat Pancake
  • Looking for low-carb, gluten-free and vegan-friendly pancakes? Lakanto offers a Low-Carb Pancake & Waffle Mix.
Low-Carb, Gluten & Vegan
Lakanto Low-Carb Pancake & Waffle Mix
Plant-based (vegan), sugar-free (keto friendly), gluten free, high fiber and 5g of protein with 6g net carbs.
Sauces We all know sauces are the secret to success when it comes to making your favourite vegan-friendly comfort foods.
  • I’m a firm believer that if adding mayo to your wrap means you pack a homremade lunch or drizzling dressing over your salad makes you eat more vegetables, it’s a good idea! Made with Plants has vegan options for mayonnaise, ranch dressing, Caesar, aioli and even burger sauce.
  • Fish sauce and oyster sauce: If you love cooking Asian dishes, it can be difficult to find substitutes for seafood-based sauces. Niulife Cocomino Vegan Fysh Sauce and Ayam Vegetarian Oyster Sauce are both suitable for vegan diets. Additionally, Hoisin sauce and Soy sauce (including Kikkoman) are generally vegan-friendly and made using soy products.
Made with Plants Mayo & Ayam Oyster Sauce
Fresh pasta Did you know that fresh pasta often contains eggs BUT dry pasta is often made from flour and water without egg. If you love the taste and convenience of fresh pasta, I Pastai and San Remo have fresh vegan pasta. Alternatively, going for a chickpea, lentil or pea-based dry pasta is a great way to get in some extra protein and fibre.
Cheddar Flavour
Annie’s Homegrown Organic Vegan Mac
Missing creamy and comforting mac and cheese? Add you’re fabourite plant-based milk for a low-fat and certified organic dinner! Certified organic, plant-based (vegan friendly), no artificial flavours, synthetic colours or preservatives.
Wines I know this is not what you wanted to hear but animal products are often used in the clarification process of wine. This can include gelatin (from animal tissues and bones), casein (from milk), albumin (from egg white) and isinglass (from fish) and the wine may contain trace amounts of these products. That’s why some wines include “may contain traces of fish or egg” on their labels. Thankfully, not all wine is created this way and alternative ways to refine wine without using animal products include using activated charcoal, limestone, silica gel and bentonite clay. As most manufacturers, do not label this on their wine, your best bet is to ask. Well-known vegan wine brands include Nature’s Step Organic Wines, Yalumba and Kalleske. What about other alcohols? Most beers are vegan except for honeybeers and meads (both include honey), and milk stouts which often contain lactose or whey. Spirits are also generally free of any animal-based products including vodka, tequila, rum, gin, brandy and whisky. A well-known exception to this is Baileys which is a whisky made with cream. When in doubt, I use to find out if my drink is vegetarian or vegan-friendly.
Dairy alternatives Whilst dairy products are considered vegetarian-friendly, it sure is hard to find a decent tasting and healthy vegan yoghurt. My top picks are:
  • Chobani’s plant-based range is free of gelatin, lactose and other animal-based thickeners. All their natural flavours are fruit and vegetable based.
  • Soy life and Kingland Soy yoghurts are also vegan-friendly and healthy choices.
  • Cocobella and Nakula Coconut Yoghurt are also vegan-friendly but low in protein and high in unhealthy saturated fats. I would use coconut yoghurts sparingly to add to meals, instead of as an everyday yoghurt.
Dietitian Tip: Look for high protein yoghurts to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Plant-based yoghurts are notoriously hard to find with most options giving only 4-5g of protein per 100g. This is half the amount of milk-based yoghurt. Yo Pro has released a new line of plant-based yoghurts, suitable for both vegetarians and vegans, with 12g of protein per 100g by using soy and pea protein.
Omega 3 supplements These are generally made from fish but algae-based omega 3s are available. Algae is considered an environmentally sustainable and ethical source of omega 3s. In fact, fish and seafood are rich sources of omega3 fatty acids because they eat algae.[2]
Algae Based
Sunwarrior Omega-3 Vegan DHA + EPA Softgels
Sun Warrior’s Omega 3s are completely vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free. Pure algae is sustainably sourced which is good for the planet and for your heart health.

Bonus Vegan-friendly goodies for chocolate-lovers

Are you a chocolate lover but don’t want to pay a premium price tag for vegan-friendly chocolate? Oreo classic and chocolate flavours, Lindt 85% and higher dark chocolate are all vegan-friendly. You might notice that cocoa butter is part of the ingredients list of some of these products. Cocoa butter is actually derived solely from cocoa beans and contains no animal products! You might also be surprised and delighted to find out that Biscoff and Cadbury drinking chocolate are vegan-friendly!

Vegan & Gluten-Free
Larabar Chocolate Chip Brownie Bar
Larabar is made with 100% real food - just 6 ingredients. If you haven’t tried Lara-bars yet, they are a great on-the-go snack and their entire range is vegan-friendly! A perfect pre-workout snack.

Whether you choose to follow a plant-based, vegetarian or vegan diet, there are so many delicious and nutritious food and drinks now available.

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Valentina Duong
Valentina Duong
A nutritionist and powerlifter with numerous first place finishes at national and international competitions. Valentina's rediscovering joy, one snack at a time.


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