When we're younger, we learn that vegetarians simply do not eat meat. However, vegetarianism is much more varied and complex than that simple definition. There are different vegetarian diets that allow a person to consume or not consume dairy products, egg products, and other things.
People may follow a veggie diet for environmental and ethical reasons, wellness, or for the numerous health benefits. The combination of benefits includes a reduced risk for breast cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. However, cutting out meat does not automatically create a healthy lifestyle. For example, some people may load up on processed food and not diversify their food choices.
Since there are many options, adults can find a vegetarian diet that's right for them. When you do so, be sure to plan your consumption around your nutritional needs.
Different Vegetarian Diets
There is some debate over what counts as a vegetarian diet. Some experts say there are five, four, or even just three true types of vegetarian diets. For our purposes, we'll go through the seven most-discussed options from least restrictive to most.
Flexitarian is a relatively new term for people who eat a plant-based diet most of the time. However, they occasionally throw in meat or other animal products when a situation calls for it. As the name suggests, this is the most flexible (sort of) vegetarian diet.
Coming from the prefix "pollo" for chicken, these consumers only eat poultry and fowl in addition to veggies and fruit. Pollotarians do not eat seafood or red meat. Technically, this isn't a type of vegetarian, but it's close.
Similar to pollotarian, pescatarians restrict their consumption of meat and only eat fish and seafood. Some religions do not consider fish to be meat, which allows pescatarianism to be a semi-vegetarian lifestyle.
4. Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian
The most common plant-based diet, lacto-ovo vegetarians do not consume fowl, white meat, fish, or red meat. However, the lacto vegetarian diet does allow for eggs and dairy products such as butter, yogurt, cheese, and milk.
5. Ovo Vegetarian
An ovo-vegetarian consumes egg products along with a plant-based lifestyle. This type of vegetarian diet does not allow for dairy products, meat, fish, or chicken.
6. Lacto Vegetarian
A lacto vegetarian does not consume eggs, meat, fish, or fowl. However, they do eat dairy products, allowing them to get calcium and nutrients from dairy foods.
The vegan diet does not allow for any animal by-products or animal products. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, free of meat, eggs, fish, and dairy products. They also may not use items that come from animals, such as leather, silk, or wool.
You can customize your diet to work for your life, environment, and activity level. There are many subsets of all of these categories where many people make exceptions or new restrictions based on personal health choices. For example, other diets you may notice include the raw vegan diet and the macrobiotic diet.
Raw vegans eat unprocessed, plant-based foods without cooking them. This trend comes from the belief that cooking food at a temperature above 46 degrees Celsius reduces the nutritional value of food. These individuals are also known as "raw foodies."
With a macrobiotic diet, people eat whole grains, vegetables, and fruits with no refined oils or sugar. These individuals sometimes eat fish, and people use this eating plan for its health effects and healing abilities.
Preparing to Go Vegetarian
For vegetarian and vegan diets, “The key is to consume a variety of foods to meet your calorie and nutrient needs.” (1) It's important to use sustainable food sources and incorporate a variety of grains, legumes, and nuts. If you are switching to a vegi diet for the first time, consider soliciting the help of a dietitian.
With the more restrictive types of vegetarian diets, such as the vegan diet, it's important to keep track of your nutrient intake. Make sure you are eating foods or taking supplements to avoid vitamin deficiency. Your body needs healthy levels of:
It's important to be intentional about supplementing some of the nutrients you find in meat products. (2) For Vitamin B-12 and Zinc, our bodies do not easily absorb these nutrients from plant sources. According to Some plant foods that provide a well-rounded diet include soy products, soybeans and flaxseed, canola oil, walnuts, tofu, and dark greens.
Something that can help you prepare is finding meal programs with vegetarian meal plans.
Generally, the seven vegetarian forms are:
There is some debate about what kind of diets count as vegetarianism. Technically, there are four diets that completely exclude meats and fish. These variations are vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, and lacto-vegetarian.
Some research excludes veganism and puts it as a separate category altogether. Vegan diets exclude eggs and dairy and other animal products such as gelatin and honey. Additionally, Americans tend to have different definitions of vegetarianism than other people around the world.
There are different interpretations of the conditions for vegetarianism. Most researchers classify these two diets as different, since vegetarians do not eat animal ingredients at all.
Some people put an emphasis on fish being non-meat, so they refer to pescatarians as semi-vegetarians. Either way, pescetarians limit their meat consumption while still getting the benefits of fish proteins, eggs, and dairy.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a level 5 vegan. This is a phrase created on the show The Simpsons, as a dig to people who take healthy eating to the extreme. In the real world, someone may joke that you are a level 5 vegan if you take extreme amounts of effort to avoid everything with an animal origin.
Vegetarian Types - Final Thoughts
The difference in the types of vegetarianism lies in meat intake, dairy consumption, and whether the individual will eat eggs. These categories are not set in stone, and you should find the one that gives you the nutrition you need. As with any diet, it is important to follow recipes that give you the protein you need in your meals.
10 tips: Healthy eating for vegetarians. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ten-tips-healthy-eating-for-vegetarians.
Craig WJ. Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010;25:613.