We’ve all been at a dinner party when that one guest proudly introduces that they’ve gone vegetarian, much to the hosts’ surprise. Dinner quickly escalates into full-tilt stress fest if the host doesn’t know what the new vegetarian can and can’t eat. Whether you’re that frantic host, or considering going vegetarian for the first time, it’s helpful to understand how different types of vegetarians vary. Here we’ll talk about what different types of vegetarians (including vegans) do & don’t eat, plus the pros and cons of vegetarianism and its effectiveness for weight loss.
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Table of Contents
Vegetarianism: The Basics
A vegetarian is anyone that abstains from the consumption of animal meat, and may also avoid animal by-products that have been produced from the any part of a living or dead animal. Their diet consists mostly of plant-based foods like grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Vegetarians vary in their avoidance of animal by-products like dairy, eggs, gelatin, leather and honey.
History of Vegetarianism
While vegetarianism may seem like a relatively recent trend, in actuality it is far from that. This lifestyle’s roots trace back to the 7th century when it was promoted by religions in ancient Greece, India, Egypt and elsewhere. However, with the rise of Christianity during the Roman Empire, vegetarianism grew rare in Europe and around the world, with the notable exception of India. In the late 19th century conscious vegetarianism started to make a resurgence, and 1847 the first modern Vegetarian Society was founded in the United Kingdom.
Statisticians currently estimate that 375 million people follow a vegetarian diet worldwide. In the US alone, approximations predict that there are over 7 million vegetarian adults and, among them, about one million vegans.
What’s the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?
The difference between vegetarians and vegans is the strictness with which they avoid animal products. Vegetarians avoid all animal meat, but they still consume one or more animal by-products. Most vegetarians eat and drink animal by-products including milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs and gelatin.
Vegans, on the other hand, do not consume anything made from any part an animal – dead or alive. They firmly avoid all foods and drinks that contain, or have been produced, using any part of an animal. They do not consume any meat, dairy, eggs or gelatin. In many cases, they also avoid wearing leather or cosmetics that have been tested on animals, and sometimes steer clear of honey. Vegans are the strictest sub-group of vegetarians.
Types of Vegetarians
There are four types of vegetarians. In order of increasing restrictiveness, they are:
Other people choose to eat less meat, but still consume some animal flesh. These people are sometimes called “partial vegetarians”. Two popular types of partial vegetarians are:
While all vegetarians steer clear of meat, they vary in their consumption of other animal products like dairy, eggs, honey and gelatin. Other people follow a plant-based, or reduced-meat, diet. Keep scrolling to learn more about what each of the above mentioned groups does and doesn’t eat!
The dietary preferences below are listed in increasing order of restrictiveness.
Noted as one of the most prominent food trends of 2017, flexitarianism is the practice of eating mostly vegetarian, but not entirely. It is viewed as an achievable way of moving towards a plant-based diet without completely giving up meat. One of the main movements that propelled this eating pattern forward was “Meat-Free Mondays”, which entail completely forsaking meat only on one day of the week: Mondays. While some critics refer to flexitarians as “vegetarians who cheat”, the fact is that cutting down on meat and increasing fiber & vegetable intake proves beneficial – whether it’s 100% of the time or only 20% of the time. People adopt a flexitarian diet for many of the same reasons that others may choose a vegetarian diet. Popular reasons include health and the environment.
Pescatarians do not eat any meat (beef, pork, lamb) or poultry, but continue to consume seafood. A pescatarian’s diet is largely plant-based since they’re essentially vegetarians that eat fish. Some people choose to adopt a pescatarian lifestyle so that they can reap the benefits of a plant-based diet while also enjoying the healthy fats contained in fish. Others eliminate meat and poultry due to health, environmental or ethical concerns, but do not have the same qualms about fish and crustaceans. Most pescatarians also consume animal by-products, so dairy and eggs play a critical role in their diets.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians (a.k.a. ovo-lacto vegetarians) do not eat the flesh of any animal, but still consume dairy and eggs. They do not eat any meat, poultry or seafood. When someone states that they’re “just vegetarian”, chances are that they follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. Grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts make-up the base of these people’s diets, however dairy and eggs also play an important role – especially in meeting daily protein requirements. This type of vegetarianism is relatively mainstream and well-accommodated in restaurants and supermarkets around the world.
Ovo-vegetarians (or “eggitarians”) are vegetarians that abstain from all meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but still eat eggs. Many ovo-vegetarians exclude dairy products from their diet because of ethical concerns surrounding the production of milk. Given that same logic, most people who commit to ovo-vegetarianism prefer free-range eggs, which are laid by uncaged hens. Less commonly, some people follow an ovo-vegetarian diet instead of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet because they suffer from lactose intolerance and do not tolerate dairy products well.
Lacto-vegetarians (aka “lactarians”) do not consume any meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. They do, however, maintain dairy products as part of their regular diet. Eggs are not always considered vegetarian since they are technically an undeveloped embryo. So, some people follow a lacto-vegetarian diet as part of their interpretation of true vegetarianism. This is an especially common belief in India. Some religions (e.g. Jainism) also promote this dietary practice. Lacto-vegetarianism is proven to reduce risk of overweight and obesity in women who commit to this lifestyle.
Vegans are the strictest type of vegetarians. They do not eat any meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs or other animal by-product. Vegans are shown to suffer the lowest risk of lifestyle diseases, and typically weigh less than their meat-eating or vegetarian counterparts. However, when diet is poorly planned, vegans are also of the populations most-likely to suffer nutritional deficiencies. Many people also find it very challenging to commit to a vegan diet in the long-term. As a result, among the different types of vegetarians, vegans stand to reap the most benefits, but also suffer the most consequences as a result of their dietary choices.
Reasons to Become Vegetarian
People become vegetarian for many reasons, but some of the most reasons to become vegetarian (or reasons to become vegan) are:
- Animal Rights
- Environmental Protection
- Improved Health
Compassion for animals is one of the most common reasons to go vegetarian. Animal rights activists are quick to note the many abuses that farmed animals endure so that their meat and by-products are readily-available for mass consumption. In the interest of protecting animal rights and lessening suffering, some people choose to go vegetarian or vegan.
Did you know that producing a kilogram of beef produced an amount of greenhouse gases (methane, specifically) equivalent to over 36 kilograms of carbon dioxide? That’s before you take into account fertilizers, which only contribute more damaging gases to the environment. So, a quarter-pound beef burger is responsible for the same amount of environmental damage as driving your car about 140 kilometers (or 87 miles)… and that’s before you factor in the pollution produced through food transport. Many people choose to eliminate meat from their diets due to this significant environmental impact.
Vegetarians – and especially vegans – are less likely to suffer from lifestyle diseases like obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. They’re also at lower risk for some cancers, diverticulitis and gallstones. These health benefits are derived primarily from the fact that most vegetarians’ diets are low in saturated fat, high in fiber and contain plenty of beneficial vitamins from a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Reasons NOT to Become a Vegetarian or Vegan
Plant-based diets are healthy and natural, so why are more of us not vegetarian or vegan? There are some notable reasons NOT to become vegetarian too, including:
- Potential Nutrient Deficiencies
- Personal or Social Inconvenience
- Personal Preference
Potential Nutrient Deficiencies
In terms of health, potential nutrient deficiencies are some of the biggest reasons not to become a vegetarian. While it is wholly possible to obtain all of the necessary protein and vitamins from a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, it takes a little more planning than do mean-inclusive diets. Some of the at-risk nutrients for vegetarians and vegans include: protein, B12, calcium, iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Given that vegan diets are more restrictive than other types of vegetarian diets, vegans experience a higher risk of deficiency.
Daily protein requirements are about 0.8 grams per kilogram (or 0.4 grams per pound) of body weight. Most lacto-ovo vegetarians easily get their protein through dairy and eggs. Vegans can achieve their daily protein goals by eating plenty of foods like beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin B12 is contained in animal products and essential for neural function and DNA/RNA synthesis. Lacto-ovo vegetarians typically receive plenty of B12 through their diets, but vegans should either consume fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereal, soy milk, etc.) and/or consider adding a supplement.
Minerals may also be of-concern for some vegetarians, specifically calcium, iron and zinc. The first two are at-risk due to lower consumption, while zinc may be low as a result of decreased absorption. However, research indicates that vegetarians in Western countries usually have normal levels of these minerals. Iron is contained in legumes, whole grains and nuts/seeds, leafy greens and legumes have calcium, and slightly lower zinc absorption doesn’t appear to cause problems. All of these minerals are regularly added to fortified foods like breakfast cereal.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Last, but not least, omega-3 fatty acids are contained in fish and eggs and cannot be produced by our bodies. We need omega-3s to support brain, heart and joint health. Lacto-vegetarians and vegans should look for fortified milks, protein bars and supplements to get their omega-3s. You can also directly consume omega-3s’ byproduct: ALA. ALA is contained in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil.
As you can see, it is VERY possible to get all of your necessary nutrients while still benefiting from the upsides of a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, if you’re not willing to put in the extra planning, nutrient deficiencies would be one of the reasons not to go vegetarian.
Personal or Social Inconvenience
Some people cite inconvenience or social pressure as one of their reasons not to become a vegetarian. Whether your friends circle is made-up of avid meat-eaters, or you live in an area with limited access to produce, going vegetarian can sometimes prove challenging. It’s also a decision you’ll likely be asked to defend with some regularity. Again, if you’re not interested in making the extra effort, the inconvenience may be among your reasons not to go vegetarian.
When I’ve asked people why they’re not vegetarian, the most common answer I hear is, “I like meat.” For this reason, I think it’s fair to say that personal preference is one of the most widespread reasons not to go vegetarian.
Vegetarian Diet for Weight Loss
On average, vegetarians maintain lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than their meat-eating counterparts. In fact, according to the CDC, less than 10% of vegetarians and vegans are overweight or obese. Experts speculate that this is because all types of vegetarians are more likely to get their five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and less likely to eat foods high in saturated fat and sugar.
Recent research also indicates that going vegetarian can help you lose more weight (almost twice as much!), especially in and around your muscles. That’s a double bonus since you’ll accelerate your metabolism in addition to losing the initial weight. So, if this study is any indication of larger trends, a vegetarian diet for weight loss may be the way to go!
Do you follow a vegetarian diet, or are you interested in trying it? Do you have a question or comment about the different types of vegetarians? Share with us in the comments section below!