4 Plant Based Diets That Are Not Vegan

Veganism is on the rise. With every passing year, more and more people are seeking to eat more sustainably, whether it be for health or ethical reasons. But if you’re not ready (or able) to give up animal products entirely, you’ll be happy to know that there are several plant based diets that are not vegan.

Contrary to the name, a plant-based diet does not consist solely of leafy greens and foraged berries. Many of these diets allow for small quantities of meat, cheese, and other animal products.

Rather than cut out all animal-derived foods, plant-based diets have a heavy focus on vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and meat alternatives like tofu. Depending on the path you take, you can still enjoy a plate of cheesy nachos or the occasional chicken sandwich. 

Oh, and before we jump into the non-vegan plant based diets, please know that this post is purely informational. Always consult with a health professional before making dramatic changes to how and what you eat.

Bowl of rice with bell pepper, brussel sprouts, and broccoli set on black napkin with knife and fork.

Whole Foods

Not to be confused with the grocery store, the whole foods diet is all about eating unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Think baked potatoes vs. potato chips, or frozen banana mash vs. a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

While the whole foods diet doesn’t exclude animal products in principle, some people choose to eat a plant-based version. In many ways, this version is actually more restrictive than veganism, because you’re avoiding both animal products and processed foods (sorry junk food vegans, no Oreos or dairy-free cheese allowed).

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Vegetarianism is the most well known plant-based diet other than veganism. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, dating back to early Indian civilization as well as ancient Greece (Pythagoras is often referred to as the “father of vegetarianism”).

Vegetarianism is pretty simple: no meat, seafood, or other foods derived from animal flesh (including stocks and gelatin).

Unlike veganism, a vegetarian diet can include naturally-occuring animal products like eggs and dairy. However, there are subsets of vegetarianism that don’t eat certain animal products.

Different Types of Vegetarians

  • Lacto-vegetarians will eat dairy but not eggs
  • Ovo-vegetarians will consume eggs but not dairy
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and dairy products

For some reason, pescetarians often get lumped into the vegetarian category. I know quite a few people who think vegetarians can eat fish but not “land animal” meat. I’ll touch on pescetarianism later, but for now, just remember that vegetarian = no animal flesh or products made from animal parts.

Bowl of ramen with bok choy, egg, mushrooms, set on black napkin with chopsticks.

Flexitarian (a.k.a. Semi-Vegetarian)

If you’re trying to eat more plants and less meat, the flexitarian diet is for you. Also known as semi-vegetarian or casual vegetarian, flexitarianism is a plant-based diet that still allows for small amounts of meat.

There are no rigid rules or set amount of how much meat you can eat. Rather, it’s a lifestyle change that’s driven by the desire to eat and live more sustainably. In fact, adopting a flexitarian diet is one of the best ways to get started with low impact living.

Flexitarianism doesn’t restrict the consumption of eggs or dairy, though some people choose to eat fewer animal products in favor of more plants and meat substitutes.

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Pescetarianism is a vegetarian diet that includes seafood. Like vegetarians, pescetarians may or may not eat eggs and/or dairy, though it’s common to consume both.

There are also subsects of pescetarianism like the macrobiotic diet, which cuts out processed foods and sugar. However, the macrobiotic diet does call for a significant limit on animal-derived products and is therefore closer to veganism and the whole foods diet.

Are all plant-based diets sustainable?

Any diet that relies heavily on plant-based foods is inherently more sustainable than a meat-based one. That being said, eating a plant-based diet doesn’t mean your food habits are 100% sustainable.

We live in a world where produce is shipped across multiple continents only to be sold a few hundred miles from where it was grown. Bananas are notoriously high impact, and yet they are perfectly acceptable to eat under any of these plant-based diets that are not vegan.

As it stands today, it’s nearly impossible to eat totally sustainably. But the best way to start is by eating seasonally and locally. Even if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market or farm co-op, you can follow these principles at the local grocery store.

Buy fresh berries when they’re growing in your country’s fields. Learn some tasty recipes for winter root vegetables. Keep an eye out for signs indicating produce was grown locally.

And above all else, remember to take it slow and be kind to yourself. Adopting a plant-based diet takes immense willpower. But with the right mindset, you’ll be tasting sweet (or savory) victory before you know it!

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