Vegetarian? Vegan? Raw Diet? What’s the Difference?

Plant-based diets are gaining momentum and becoming more mainstream. Pop your head into any grocery store and you'll find numerous products marked "vegetarian" or "certified vegan." It can be difficult to know what's what! Below are brief definitions to help guide you.

Vegetarians do not consume any fish, meat or poultry. A "lacto-vegetarian" consumes dairy products; an "ovo-vegetarian" consumes eggs; and a "lacto-ovo-vegetarian" consumes both dairy products and eggs, but no meat. Products labeled "vegetarian" typically do not contain any meat or meat-derived products — however, there are no regulations in the United States governing the use of the word "vegetarian" on a label. To be certain that a product is vegetarian, contact the manufacturer. (An example of a meat-derived product is gelatin, which is prepared from animal bones.)

Vegans are vegetarians who do not consume any animal- or insect-derived products, including: dairy, eggs and honey. This group avoids animal- and insect-based food dyes, binders and additives.

Raw diet adherents follow an eating plan of consuming products that are uncooked and unprocessed. The percentage of raw foods can vary from 50- to 100-percent raw. A raw food diet may or may not be vegan. Consumers of the raw diet do not cook foods at temperatures greater than 116 degrees Fahrenheit. Some examples of raw foods that are typically vegan include fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, sprouted grains, beans, and dried fruit. Depending on the individual's preference, raw meat (like Carpaccio), raw fish (like sushi) or raw milk products may be eaten as well.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful for all age groups. Completely raw diets are not recommended for infants and children due to concerns with nutrient adequacy.

Julia Driggers
Julia Driggers, RD, LDN, is a pediatric dietitian at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia and blogger for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' Vegetarian Nutrition DPG.