Vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets are three diet patterns focused on reducing your intake of meat.
People choose to adopt these diets for a multitude of reasons. For example, all three eating patterns have been associated with a variety of health and environmental benefits.
This may have you wondering how these diets compare and if one is healthier than the others.
This article takes a closer look at vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian diets, reviewing their key similarities and differences.
Though vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian diets all involve eating less meat, there are several differences that set them apart.
Meanwhile, vegetarian diets typically eliminate all meat, fish, and poultry. They may include dairy products and eggs, though some people choose to limit or avoid these products (
Vegan diets are more restrictive. They don’t include any meat, poultry, fish, or foods derived from animals, like dairy or eggs. Some people on a vegan diet also avoid products made from other creatures, including insects, and won’t use honey, silk, or wool (
Vegetarian, vegan, and pescatarian diets all involve eating less meat and poultry. Pescatarian diets include seafood, while vegan diets exclude all animal-derived products, including dairy and eggs.
While there are several differences between pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets, all three exclude red meat and poultry.
Red meat like beef, lamb, and pork is rich in many nutrients, including protein, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc (
All three diet plans emphasize nutrient-dense plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
For this reason, plant-based diets have been linked to a long list of health benefits. For example, they may support weight management and protect against chronic disease (
Plus, all three diet plans can reduce your environmental footprint and are typically considered more sustainable than diets that include meat.
For instance, one study found that greenhouse gas emissions from vegan and vegetarian diets are 50% and 35% lower, respectively, than diets that include meat (
Another study estimated that a nutritionally adequate pescatarian diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 59%, while vegetarian and vegan diets could cut emissions by 62% and 73%, respectively (
Vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets exclude red meat, which supplies important nutrients but is also linked to a higher risk of chronic disease. All three diets emphasize nutrient-dense plant foods and may reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Compared with vegan and vegetarian diets, pescatarian diets are much more flexible and easy to follow. That’s because they only exclude red meat and poultry but permit other animal products like fish, eggs, and dairy.
This can make it much easier to meet your nutritional needs. For example, seafood is rich in many nutrients that plant foods often lack, including omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, and vitamin D (
On the other hand, vegan diets are more restrictive and eliminate all animal products. This can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies for those following the eating pattern (
Pescatarian diets are flexible and provide several important nutrients, whereas vegan diets are more restrictive and can make it challenging to meet your nutritional needs.
Multiple studies show that pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets can be effective for weight loss.
In fact, a study in nearly 11,000 people found that individuals who adhered to diet patterns that excluded meat or reduced meat intake — including vegetarian and pescatarian diets — had a lower body mass index (BMI) compared with those who consumed meat (
Interestingly, some research suggests that vegan diets may promote weight loss more than other diet patterns.
For instance, a review of 12 studies found that following a vegan diet for 18 weeks led to an average weight loss of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg), compared with a smaller weight loss of 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg) on a vegetarian diet (
Notably, a small 16-week study comparing the effects of a vegan diet and a meat-containing control diet found that both a decreased intake of animal protein and increased intake of plant protein were associated with significantly reduced fat mass (
This indicates that simply decreasing your intake of meat and eating more plant-based protein may also benefit weight management.
Still, keep in mind that it’s still possible to eat more calories than your body needs while following a vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian diet, which can negate any potential weight loss benefit.
Furthermore, vegan and vegetarian diets can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies and may be associated with a greater risk of orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthy eating (
Additional research is also needed to determine the long-term effects of vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets on weight loss.
Studies show that vegan diets may be more effective for weight loss compared with vegetarian or pescatarian diets. However, some research also suggests that simply reducing your intake of meat could help you reach or maintain a moderate weight.
Trying to “do it right” when it comes to nutrition may feel tempting, but it can backfire. If you are preoccupied with food or your weight or feel guilt surrounding your food choices, consider reaching out for support. These behaviors may indicate a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder.
Disordered eating and eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, age, socioeconomic status, or other identities.
They can be caused by any combination of biological, social, cultural, and environmental factors — not just by exposure to diet culture.
Feel empowered to talk with a qualified healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, if you’re struggling.
You can also chat, call, or text anonymously with trained volunteers at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for free or explore the organization’s free and low cost resources.
Vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets all eliminate red meat from the diet. That includes foods like beef, bacon, pork, chicken, and ham.
However, it’s also worth considering that unlike vegan and vegetarian diets, pescatarian diets include fish. Fish is a great source of several important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (
DHA and EPA have been associated with several health benefits thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. For example, they may improve brain function and heart health (
Those eating a vegan and vegetarian diet can obtain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from certain plant-based foods. However, ALA is not as active in your body and can only be converted to DHA or EPA in small amounts (
Reducing your intake of meat could help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Pescatarian diets are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and could support heart and brain health.
Which diet you should follow depends on several factors, including your health goals, needs, and preferences.
For example, though vegan diets show promise for weight loss and reducing environmental impact in short-term studies, they can also be restrictive, difficult to follow, and nutritionally inadequate without careful planning.
Meanwhile, vegetarian diets offer many of the same environmental, ethical, and health-related benefits, but with more flexibility.
Pescatarian diets make it much easier to increase your intake of valuable nutrients found in seafood, like vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, while still reducing your intake of red meat and poultry.
Alternatively, you can opt to follow a flexitarian diet. This is a more flexible eating pattern focused on reducing your meat intake and enjoying more plant-based foods without completely eliminating any ingredients.
Consider your health goals, needs, and preferences to determine which diet is right for you. Vegan diets may be too restrictive for some people, but vegetarian and pescatarian diets offer many of the same benefits.
Vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian diets all involve eating less meat. They offer similar health and environmental benefits.
Some research shows that vegan diets may be more effective for weight loss and are the most environmentally friendly option. However, they can also be restrictive and require careful planning to avoid nutritional deficiencies.
On the other hand, vegetarian and pescatarian diets are more flexible and include several nutrient-dense foods that are omitted from vegan diets, such as dairy and eggs. Pescatarian diets even include fish.
Be sure to consider your health goals, needs, and preferences to determine which diet is right for you. You can also consider trying a flexitarian diet for an easy way to reduce your intake of meat without cutting it out completely.
Just one thing
Try this today: Meat is rich in several important nutrients, many of which aren’t found in plant foods. For a closer look at some of the key vitamins and minerals to monitor carefully when switching to a meat-free diet, check out this article.