A Vegan Diet Versus A Whole Food Plant-Based Diet: what is the difference?

In the last year I have met so many beautiful and interesting people from all over the world with their own culture, habits, ideas and diets. Of course, health and a plant-based diet were topics that were a common subject of interest. I noticed however that there is so much confusion when it comes to what the difference is between a vegan diet and a whole food plant-based diet. So many ideas and so many explanations while referring to (more or less) the same. A vegan diet versus a whole food plant-based diet: what is the difference? It’s actually really simple and I’m going to try to break it down for you.


People who are vegan or follow a vegan diet don’t eat any animal-based/derived products or ingredients, such as eggs, meat, dairy, honey, milk or cheese. When a person is vegan it’s more than just the diet and it involves an entire lifestyle where animal products are completely avoided. For example also supplements or makeup made with beeswax are avoided. But also shoes, clothes, bags, shampoo…. So basically anything made with animal derived materials (silk, wool, leather, gelatin, beeswax, lanolin) are avoided.

This might not be the case for everyone, but in general vegans are motivated to follow a vegan diet and lifestyle by animal rights issues and the ethical treatment of animals.

Whole Food Plant-Based

This diet is the same as the above, because people on a whole food plant-based also avoid animal-based products such as eggs, cheese, milk, meat, dairy, and yogurt. The difference is the type of vegan food they eat. Are you still following me? Unlike the vegan diet, a person following a whole food plant-based diet avoids processed foods such as oils, white flour, and white refined sugars. On a whole food plant-based diet people basically eat whole foods as much as possible. So instead of walnut oil they will go for the whole walnut.

Some people think a whole food plant-based diet is fat-free since they don’t use oil (that much), but that’s not true. On a whole food plant-based diet they get their fat form whole sources such as nuts, seeds, and avocados. A whole food plant-based diet is all about eating unprocessed food (as much as possible) fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Generally speaking most people who follow a whole food plant-based diet do so for their health.

Two confusing statements

The below two statements are in my opinion not true and something that people get confused about most.

”It’s vegan so it’s healthy and I will lose weight’‘. Vegan food is vegan food and nothing more than that. It can still be loaded with too much oils, refined sugars and salt.

”On a whole food plant-based diet you may include some animal products once in a while such as eggs” This is something most people get wrong. A whole food plant-based diet is in essence a vegan diet, but reffering to a diet (not a lifestyle) and referring to food in their natural whole state. A person who still eats eggs is not following a (whole food) plant-based diet. A plant-based diet is based on non-animal derived foods. I believe the only exception (some people) make on this ”rule” are when it comes to honey and bee pollen. Some people on a whole food plant-based diet do not completely exclude these products from their diet. They rarely make an exception by eating something that is not plant-based.

Still confused?

Well, let’s take myself as an example. I sometimes eat so called ”vegan junk food”. This can be a vegan ice cream or a vegan cookie, but my main diet is a whole food plant-based diet where I cook from scratch with for example as minimal/no oil and salt as possible.

So if you’re vegan you basically look for a product that is not from an animal without looking whether it’s processed or not (such as chips, cookies, vegan ice creams, vegan meat replacements, vegan cheese, breads high in salt or vegan dips high in oil). When you are on a whole food plant-based diet you look for anything that is vegan, but you’ll also go for food that is not (minimal) processed and as natural and whole as possible.

A vegan foodie can eat any vegan cookie from the store and a whole food plant-based foodie chooses rather not to, but buys (if possible) or makes the whole food plant-based version.

Don’t get me wrong when I say ”vegan junk”, because there are many people who eat both (whole foods and processed) and there’s nothing wrong with that especially if you just started out as a vegan foodie. Fake meats, fake cheese, fake eggs …they can all be great when you are trying to navigate through the jungle of vegan cooking.

What’s right?

There is no right or wrong, it’s all very personal. I started with a plant-based diet for health reasons when there were not so many vegan options out there. I was mostly following a whole food plant-based diet without even realizing it. There were simply not so many vegan ”junk food” options back then. I felt amazing in the beginning, but the more vegan food there was available, the more I reached out to these convenient type of vegan products (ready made meals and vegan snacks). I noticed however that by doing so I lost the benefits I once gained when changing my diet. So I went back to the simple, whole food plant-based way of eating. That is what is working for me. 

So I eat only whole food plant-based? Nope. I also eat ”vegan junk’’ once in a while. Mostly as a treat, when I go out or when I travel. Not because I miss anything, but because I like to try new vegan type of foods and I like to get inspired and try to make a whole food plant-based version of it at home. I also think when traveling there is often really not an option to eat whole food plant-based. It’s challenging to say at least. But I always can get vegan food, no matter where I am.

Following a vegan diet high in processed products and oils may save the animals, but not my health.

Both? A whole food plant-based vegan

I noticed that after eating a whole food plant-based diet for years now, my emotions started to change when it comes to animal ethics. I’m not able to watch any documentary on animal rights because I almost immediately start to get emotional. It doesn’t feel good anymore to me to avoid meat, but still own (wear) the skin of an animal. I still own a lot of non-vegan fashion, which I’ll most likely keep. However, I’m not buying leather, silk or wool that easily anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if I will be also an ethical vegan in the near future.

There is no wrong or right. It all comes down to the motivation behind your diet and lifestyle.
  • Want to improve your health? A whole food plant-based diet might also be for you the way to go.
  • If you care for the ethical treatment of animals: the vegan diet/lifestyle is the way to go.
  • If you want both: the whole food plant-based vegan diet/lifestyle is great.

Whatever ”diet” fits your lifestyle, there are benefits to both. One thing is for sure, both are delicious and doing the planet a great favor.

Are you a vegan foodie, a whole food plant-based foodie or maybe a mixture of both? Let me know in the comment section or on Instagram or Facebook. I would love to know who you are!