Fiona is the editor of Plantpuree, a website that celebrates vegan living. With over 20 years in diet & fitness, fashion, and beauty, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to her work and writing on veganism.
Estimated reading time: 21 minutes
Are you a vegan? If so, congratulations! You are part of a growing community of people who have made the ethical decision to exclude all animal products from their diets. But what about if you are not quite there yet? Maybe you’re still considering going vegan, or maybe you’re just curious about the different types of veganism out there. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of vegans and discuss the levels of veganism framework which recognizes that people may be at different stages in their vegan journey.
At its most basic, veganism is a philosophy that avoids all animal-based products and animal exploitation. But as the vegan movement continues to become more mainstream it has developed a number of sub-categories and identities some of which align with this core philosophy and others that take it in a different direction.
Behind each type of vegan is a set of reasons, motivations and values that drove their choice to become vegan. These values may include the political or moral treatment of all living beings, environmental and climate change concerns, spiritual beliefs around food and nature, social concerns such as justice and equality, or personal health goals.
In fact, there are 7 types of vegans, 5 levels of veganism, and at least 13 types of vegan diets identified within the community.
If you are considering going vegan yourself or simply trying to understand where your values fit, this guide is here to help. Here we’ll look closely at each type of vegan, how they approach their way of living and the different levels and stages of veganism you may find yourself in during your journey.
We’ll also run through the different types of vegan diets and explore the types of foods that each one typically includes and excludes.
Table of Contents
It’s useful to begin with the original definition of veganism and use that as a baseline with which to compare the different types of veganism that have since emerged.
The Vegan Society, who coined the term “veganism” back in 1944, created it with the intention of avoiding any and all forms of exploitation against animals:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
However, not everyone who identifies as vegan follows this definition. Some have taken a more reductionist approach and reduced veganism to purely food and their diet while others have expanded the definition to include other types of exploitation such as discrimination, exploitation of the disadvantaged, climate change concerns and exploitation of the planet’s resources.
Types Of Vegans
There are 7 different types of vegans, each with their own unique approach to veganism but all with at least one goal in common: to avoid consuming animals. However, it’s their reasons for choosing veganism that define their types.
Ethical vegans also known as abolitionist vegans do not tolerate any type of animal exploitation or abuse. They live by the definition of veganism set out by The Vegan Society and make it a central pillar in their approach to life.
Ethical vegans only purchase from and support companies that do not use animals in any capacity at all – including for food, clothing, cosmetics, etc. They also avoid any types of entertainment that exploit animals, like horse racing and zoos.
The animal rights philosopher Gary Francione argues that this animal welfare approach is the “moral baseline” for the animal rights movement. (5) According to him, vegans who might allow the use of animals under specific conditions are not really vegans.
However, sometimes it’s just not possible to avoid animal derivates, for example with medical treatments or depending on the country you’re in – vegan alternatives can’t be found. That’s perfectly understandable and the definition of veganism set by the Vegan Society allows for this.
The beliefs, intention to avoid animal exploitation, and making an effort are what matter most in this case. What unites ethical vegans is not that they have been able to completely cut out animal exploitation, but rather their attempt to do so.
However, if you choose to ignore certain types of exploitation or species for the sake of convenience, you would not be considered an ethical vegan.
Environmental vegans are driven by a desire to protect the planet from harm caused by animal agriculture. As such, they make choices that reduce their environmental impact – for example by following a vegan diet.
Livestock breeding has a huge impact on the planet’s resources. A large amount of land and water is necessary to raise livestock, contributing significantly to deforestation. 8% of the world’s human water use goes towards animal agriculture, primarily for irrigating crops that animals will eat. (6)
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, “each year, billions of hectares of forest area are lost due to agricultural uses as pastures or feed production from crops for livestock.” (7)
In addition, the largest driver of deforestation in the world has been land for rearing cattle in the Amazon. From 1988 to 2014, 480,000 kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon turned into pasture for cattle due to destructive practices such as clear-cutting. (8)
This not only diminishes regional water availability and soil fertility, but also negatively impacts biodiversity. In fact, scientists have suggested that our food system is unsustainable and will surpass the earth’s resources by 2050 if we don’t make changes. (9)
And if that wasn’t bad enough, climatologists believe that ranching – including raising livestock for meat and leather – is fueling climate change. (10,11)
It was on this basis that Greta Thunberg started her journey into veganism for environmental reasons. Like the scientists, Greta believes that the only way we can save our planet is by eliminating animal product consumption and transitioning to veganism. This change would help use Earth’s resources more efficiently, slow down climate change, and protect our planet for future generations. (12)
Like ethical veganism, environmental veganism focuses on doing good and causing no harm. However, it also places a strong emphasis on our impact on the planet, and what we can do to protect it.
Environmental veganism encourages us to consider the consequences of our actions and make choices that are good for everyone, including future generations and the environment.
Religious or spiritual vegans are motivated by their beliefs to avoid animal products.
Although veganism is not a religion in itself, there are many different types of religious veganism, including vegan Hinduism, vegan Buddhism, vegan Rastafarianism, and vegan Jainism. Note that Buddhist vegans, Jain vegans, etc reach beyond the vegetarianism of their traditions to adhere better to the practice of kindness and do no harm to others.
All of these traditions place a strong emphasis on non-violence towards all living beings as part of their core philosophy. For this reason, they often discourage or even forbid the consumption of animals and animal products.
However, religious vegans are not restricted to these traditions, and many other types of spirituality may also encourage veganism.
Regardless of the reason, choosing a vegan lifestyle is meant to connect us with our beliefs, honor our values and reflect a compassionate worldview. If you choose to follow a vegan lifestyle for moral or religious reasons, you are part of a growing movement that embraces the well-being of all living beings and promotes kindness and compassion towards others.
Intersectionality is a framework that looks to understand how a species, person, or group of people are affected by a complex range of overlapping discriminations and identities. It provides a perspective from which we can identify the processes, practices, policies, and structures that increase the likelihood of experiencing disadvantage or discrimination because of intersecting identities.
Kimberle Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and authority on critical race theory, was the first to use the term “intersectionality” in relation to feminism. She did this to show how factors such as race or sexuality might interact with it.:
“Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” (13)
Intersectionality is valuable because not only does it help us understand how oppression and privilege interact within society, but it also reveals the common roots of all oppression. This can bring members of different social groups together and help them understand each other’s experiences.
For a vegan, the struggles of oppressed humans and animals are interconnected. It makes more sense to fight for justice for altogether, rather than as individual causes fighting for recognition.
What this promotes is a shared sense of responsibility to take action and make an effort towards justice on behalf of all marginalized groups.
For example – yes, it’s important to talk about how plant-based diets are better for the environment and animals, but we also have to speak out against the inhumane working conditions of the many farm workers who grow our food. The conditions they face while producing food we eat should matter to us as well.
If you are an intersectional vegan, your decision to live a cruelty-free lifestyle is about more than just being kind to animals – it is also about taking action for justice on behalf of all those who have been negatively impacted by prejudice and discrimination. (14)
Ethical fruitarians also known as Eden Fruitarians not only avoid harming animals, but they also go a step further by avoiding killing any living beings – even plants. Most ethical fruitarians believe that we should avoid causing harm to plants, even though they may not necessarily believe that plants are sentient and suffer when uprooted or cut. Unlike ethical vegans, ethical fruitarians stick to a diet comprised entirely of fruit.
At the core of their lifestyle is a strong commitment to nonviolence and respect for all living beings. To them, eating only fruit aligns with their beliefs about respecting and protecting nature, as well as supporting a sustainable food system that does not rely on killing animals or harming plants for sustenance.
Straight Edge Veganism
Straight edge veganism is a strand of veganism that emphasizes the importance of living a healthy lifestyle free from alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational or illicit drugs.
The name of the movement was taken from the 1981 punk song ‘Straight Edge’ by Minor Threat. The triple X symbolising the movement is sometimes worn on both hands as a sign of commitment. Straight Edge bands such as Vegan Reich sing about animal rights and environmentalism, promoting key issues through their music.
The straight edge vegans live by the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism, which prioritizes rejecting the exploitation of animals that are built into political systems of power. Furthermore, they don’t do drugs or alcohol as a means of rebellion; self-control is empowering and allows them to better confront injustice. (15,16)
Health vegans do not eat meat or any other animal products but may use them in other ways. They go vegan for the health benefits it has been proven to provide.
As more and more evidence piles up showing that vegan diets are healthier than other types of diets, the number of people who follow this type of diet has increased:
- Studies have shown that those who consume high amounts of meat are more at risk for developing cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, people who do not eat meat products have much lower mortality rates from these illnesses. (1)
- There’s a lot of research that suggests vegan diets can help people lose weight. Several studies have found links between veganism and lower rates of obesity as well as improved gut health. (2,3,4)
Many health vegans refer to themselves as vegans even though they don’t follow the full definition of the Vegan Society. This has caused criticism from ethical vegans who object to them using the term vegan because they believe that true veganism is more than just food and a diet.
For them, ‘health vegans’ aren’t vegans they are strict vegetarians who follow a plant-based diet and do not consider animal exploitation
In the eyes of an ethical vegan, veganism is a political and moral choice, while a plant-based diet is a health choice.
Levels of Veganism
The idea behind “levels of veganism” is a way of recognizing that different people may have different levels of commitment to a vegan lifestyle, or maybe at different stages in their vegan journey, and that this is okay.
The framework takes into consideration that some people may choose a vegan diet for health reasons, while others are more invested in the ethical and environmental impacts of their choices. It also accounts for the fact that it can be difficult to maintain a purely vegan lifestyle, but this doesn’t make someone any less of a vegan.
There are five levels to this framework, which are based on how dedicated a person is to living vegan and avoiding animal products in their diet and lifestyle.
Level 1 Vegan
These are people who switch to a vegan diet primarily for health benefits and may be less strict about following vegan ethics in other areas of their life. They are likely to use non-vegan products in other areas of their lives.
Level 2 Vegan
A Level 2 vegan follows a vegan diet primarily to stay fit and healthy, but is also concerned about animal cruelty. They may be more committed to animal welfare than Level 1 vegans but occasionally purchase non-vegan clothing or accessories.
Level 3 Vegan
Level 3 vegans are further on in their vegan journey and have made the necessary adjustments to fully embrace and are more strict about avoiding all non-vegan products. These types of vegans are committed to a fully vegan lifestyle and avoid non-vegan clothing, accessories, and personal care products in most areas of their lives, but may be willing to make exceptions in some areas.
Level 4 Vegan
Level 4 vegans are very strict about following a vegan lifestyle and may be active in campaigning for animal rights. They are likely to avoid all non-vegan products and may be more vocal about their veganism.
Level 5 Vegan
These are the people who are the most committed to following a vegan lifestyle to the extreme, and likely to be involved in activism or charity work related to animal rights. They do not tolerate any form of exploitation towards living beings and are the most likely to follow and ethical fruitarian approach to their diet.
It is important to note that the concept of “levels of veganism” is not a formal classification system and is not recognized by all vegans. Some people may view veganism as a binary choice – either you follow a vegan lifestyle or you do not. Others may see it as a spectrum, with varying degrees of commitment to veganism.
Types of Vegan Diets
A vegan diet can be composed of anything a person wants it to be as long as it does not include meat, dairy, or any other food product that has in some way harmed an animal. The point is that there are many different types of vegan diets – each with its own guidelines and claimed benefits.
We’ve identified at least 13 types well known vegan diets, but not all of them are necessarily healthy (for example, the Junk Food Vegan Diet) or nutritionally sound for the longer term. At least 5 are based on raw food diets and a number cater to special dietary needs such as gluten free and low fodmap.
Whole Food Vegans
A wholefood vegan diet focuses on unprocessed and unrefined vegan food such as whole grains, legumes, berries, seeds, nuts fruits, greens, and colorful vegetables and is promoted by leading doctors and scientists such as Dr. Michael Greger and Dr T. Colin Campbell.
This type of vegan diet is considered to be extremely healthy since it provides the body with all the necessary nutrients while avoiding processed foods that are high in fat or sugar, which can lead to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. (17,18)
Junk Food Vegan Diet
At the opposite end of the spectrum to a whole food diet is a vegan who eats lots of processed, high-fat, high-calorie convenience foods.
The junk food industry has made an enormous comeback in recent years, with vegan imitations of popular meat and dairy products becoming more widely available. It is easier than ever to follow an unhealthy vegan diet with the abundance of junk food options now on offer.
With plant-based burgers, sausages, fish, and any baked good or faux dairy product becoming more widely accessible, you can easily avoid fresh vegetables all together while maintaining a vegan lifestyle.
However, despite its convenience, this type of vegan diet is unhealthy and leads to obesity, poor nutritional status, and other health problems. It’s important for vegans to seek out healthy vegan alternatives and focus on eating a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods.
Vegan Keto Diet
A vegan keto diet is a type of low carb, high fat diet that follows the principles of both veganism and ketosis.
The goal of this diet is to provide the body with enough fats and proteins while restricting carbohydrates in order to stimulate the metabolism into a state of ketosis – where it starts burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.
There are many benefits to this type of diet, including weight loss, improved mental focus and clarity, and reduced appetite. However, it is important to consult with a medical professional before starting a vegan keto diet in order to ensure proper nutrition and prevent any negative side effects.
Raw Food Vegan Diet
The raw food diet focuses on a plant-based diet and tends to be naturally low in processed foods. The diet dictates that at least 75% of the food has not been heated to temperatures above 48 degrees C (118 degrees F).
The thinking behind this diet is the idea that high temperatures eliminate many of the key nutrients from food.
The actor Woody Harrelson has been a raw vegan for over 30 years and credits his high energy levels to the diet. (19)
Raw till 4 Diet
Similar to the raw food vegan diet, but less restrictive the raw till 4 diet focuses on eating mostly raw food but allows for cooked foods after 4pm.
This type of vegan diet is popular among many celebrities and is promoted by vegan Instagram influencers such as Freelee the Banana Girl. According to Freelee, “Raw Till 4 is about eating only raw fruits and greens till 4pm then follow with a high carb, low fat cooked vegan dinner.”
Freelee focuses on health, fitness and lifestyle advice as well, but the key rules to follow are:
– Drink 3-4 litres of water a day
– No caffeine
– 1,000 calories of raw fruit or vegetables for breakfast and lunch
– No oil
– Daily exercise
Paleo Vegan Diet
A Paleo diet takes its name from the Palaeolithic era, which ran from around two to three million years ago up until approximately 12,000 years ago.
The diet attempts to represent what humans ate during the Paleolithic Era. The reasoning being that such a diet is more natural for humans since we evolved eating those types of foods. This would include a diet of mostly meats and fish with some fruits, vegetables, and nuts mixed in. Obviously, this presents difficulties for vegans!
The Paleo vegan diet however attempts to find foods that are as close as possible in nature to what humans ate in the Palaeolithic era. This typically means eliminating animal products, dairy, legumes and grains altogether, leaving just fruits and vegetables.
Both the paleo vegan and raw vegan diets have a lot of similarities, but the latter does allow for beans, grains, and cereals.
It is restrictive and nutritionally limited, and should be approached with caution.
The thrive diet is another raw, vegan diet designed by former Ironman Brendan Brazier which is to be followed for 12 weeks.
The foundation of the diet consists of fibrous vegetables, such as asparagus, carrots and zucchini. These are complemented by fruits (including berries and bananas), nuts, legumes and seeds, with some starches and grains (for example brown rice or potatoes) also being consumed. However, as with other raw food diets these plant-based whole foods should be eaten raw or only lightly cooked at low temperatures.
(HCLF) High-Carb Low-Fat Vegan Diet
The HCLF diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and is the opposite of the protein high Keto diet. It is typically focused on consuming a high volume of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
The diet is based upon the theory that 80% of calories should come from carbohydrates. The rest of the calories (no more than 10% each) should come from protein and fat.
The HCLF diet claims that one of its benefits is experiencing less hunger, which in theory could lead to more weight loss than other diets.
However, by only focusing on one macronutrient, you’re missing out valuable nutrients from other food groups. For example, with the HCLF diet, important nutrients like iron and zinc may be scarce because there are limited protein-rich foods included.
Low-Fat Raw Food Vegan Diet (80/10/10)
Another example of an HCLF diet is the low-fat raw food vegan diet also known as the 80/10/10 diet. This is a low-fat, raw vegan diet developed by Dr. Douglas Graham, a sports nutritionist and chiropractor.
The diet is based upon the theory that 80% of calories should come from carbohydrates. The rest of the calories (no more than 10% each) should come from protein and fat. Fruits would be eaten most frequently on this plan.
The starch diet is another form of the HCLF diet, focusing on eating plant based foods high in complex carbohydrates.
This diet was developed by Dr. McDougall, who argues that a high-starch diet is best for optimal health and weight loss. His main source of these types of foods would be complex carbohydrates high in starches and fiber such as potatoes, legumes and grains.
Although some fat is allowed on this diet, Dr. McDougall advocates that it should be minimal in order to maximize carbohydrate intake and minimize calories.
The Starch Solution specifically cuts out animal products, vegetable oils, processed foods, and simple sugars – however, it also allegedly restricts essential dietary fats from nuts, seeds & avocados. Some proponents of the diet argue that this expedites weight-loss; though critics maintain that omitting health-beneficial food groups is both unnecessary and counterproductive.
Like other HCLF diets, the starch diet may have benefits for those looking to lose weight and eat healthier overall. However, similar to other types of vegan diets, it can be difficult to follow and may lack important nutrients.
Macrobiotic Vegan Diet
The macrobiotic vegan diet is another plant-based, whole food diet that focuses on eating nutrient dense, seasonal foods produced locally. Based on the Japanese Zen Buddhist principles, yin and yang are combined into meals through whole grain cereals, legumes, vegetables, seaweed, fermented soy products, and fruits.
It avoids sugar, refined oils, fruit juice, coffee, alcohol, white rice, white flour, and all food additives and preservatives. It also prescribes how food should be eaten and prepared in order to harmonize with the natural environment.
The goal of the macrobiotic diet is to achieve balance in your body and mind through nutrition, with an emphasis on foods that are considered to have a “healing” effect. Some of the purported benefits of this diet include improved digestion, reduced inflammation, and enhanced energy levels.
However, it can be quite restrictive, and like other restrictive vegan diets should be approached with caution.
Gluten-Free Vegan Diet
A gluten-free diet is recommended for people with celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten. This type of diet eliminates all foods containing wheat, barley, and rye. The gluten-free diet is quite restrictive, so each meal must be planned carefully to include the right nutrients.
An ideal gluten-free, vegan diet contains an abundance of fruits and vegetables, as well as plant-based proteins and whole grains that are naturally free from gluten, such as brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Some gluten-free vegan diets may also incorporate superfoods or special supplements to ensure you get all the nutrients you need for optimal health.
Some of the key benefits include improved heart health, better digestive function, and more energy. Additionally, going vegan and avoiding gluten has been linked to weight loss and other positive changes in body composition.
However, given how restrictive the diet is –going gluten-free may not be beneficial for you if you don’t have celiac disease or another gluten-related disorder.
Low Fodmap Vegan Diet
The low fodmap vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that has been specifically designed to help individuals who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive issues.
As the name suggests, this type of diet focuses on minimizing foods containing fodmaps that are known to trigger symptoms in people with IBS and other types of digestive disorders. The low fodmap diet eliminates foods like gluten, dairy, onion, garlic and legumes, while focusing on whole, unprocessed plant-based foods.
Some key benefits of adopting a low fodmap vegan diet include improved gut health and reduced symptoms of IBS such as bloating, gas and cramping. Additionally, studies have shown that this type of diet may also be helpful for individuals who suffer from other types of digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Whether you are following a gluten free vegan diet, a low fodmap diet, or another type of plant-based eating plan, it is important to work closely with a healthcare professional or dietitian to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs. Additionally, be sure to focus on including a variety of plant-based foods in your diet so that you can enjoy all of the health benefits associated with vegan eating.
Whether you are drawn to veganism for ethical, environmental, or health reasons, there is a type of vegan lifestyle that can align with your personal beliefs and priorities.
People who identify as ethical, environmental, and spiritual vegans do so because their personal values line up with veganism. They want to live in a way that is consistent with what they believe. People who become vegan generally want to make a positive difference in the world. They care about animals and the environment, and they change their lifestyle to reflect those concerns.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are health-oriented vegans who are more inward-looking. These individuals become vegan for the purported health benefits of a plant-based diet. However, many ethical vegans started their vegan journey as health vegans and later became more focused on the ethical aspects of veganism.
Whether you are drawn to the ethical, environmental, spiritual, or health benefits of veganism, there is a type of vegan diet that can work for you. If you are interested in learning more about different types of vegan diets, speak with your healthcare provider or a qualified dietitian for guidance. With proper planning and support, you can transition to a vegan lifestyle that works for you and makes a positive impact on the world around you.
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Sources: ‘7 Types of Vegans & 5 Levels of Veganism’
(11) Eshel, G., et al. 2014. Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(33), pp.11996-12001.