What are the Different Types of Vegetarians?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of vegetarians. This plant-based and meat-free diet and lifestyle has increased in popularity among a variety of people, including those passionate about their health, the environment, animal rights, and even foodies! That’s due to the plethora of benefits a vegetarian diet can have for the individual and far beyond. What you may not know is that there are actually seven different types of vegetarians! Yes, seven.
Because vegetarianism isn’t just whether or not you eat vegetables as your primary source of nutrition and can have varying rules and practices, many vegetarians choose to identify with a more specific way of eating. In this guide, we’ll be taking a closer look at these seven segments of the vegetarian lifestyle, what each of them chooses to eat, and how to choose the right dietary option for you.
What is a Vegetarian?
In general, vegetarians will eliminate animal foods from their diets. This almost always includes chicken (and other fowl), pork, beef, venison, lamb or mutton, and all other four-legged mammals. The variations come in when we discuss animal by-products, and thus, we end up with seven different types of vegetarians. So, in short, a vegetarian always (unless another dietary restriction prevents it) eats fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains but let’s take a closer look at the other foods they may allow themselves to eat as part of certain types.
First up in the categories of vegetarians is what is formally known as a lacto-vegetarian. These individuals tend to have all the same restrictions as vegetarians, including eliminating meat and eggs from their diet and relying primarily on plant-based foods to get their nutrition. However, lacto-vegetarians also allow themselves to consume dairy products like milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese.
There are several reasons that some people may choose to follow this diet instead of the others on this list. First, they may simply enjoy dairy products and be unwilling to eliminate them from the diet. While this is reason enough, they may have other motives as well. For instance, dairy contains notable amounts of protein, so if an individual is concerned with consuming enough protein in their vegetarian diet, keeping dairy products in the mix may help them feel more secure.
Similarly, ovo-vegetarians are very close in their choices to vegetarians. However, while they do not consume meat and dairy products in their diet, they choose to eat eggs. Again, they may choose for any reason, but commonly it is either because they enjoy eating eggs or feel they need to consume them for their nutritional value.
3. Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians
Should, hopefully, be pretty self-explanatory at this point. Lacto-ovo vegetarians eliminate meat from their diets but continue to eat both dairy products and eggs. Once again, people may choose this lifestyle for many reasons, with some of the most common being the enjoyment of these foods, protein concerns, and even differing philosophies in terms of animal welfare.
Next up, we have vegans. There are a few differences between vegans and vegetarians. This is another commonly known distinction of the vegetarian lifestyle and is generally acknowledged as one of the most restrictive dietary philosophies. Those who choose to follow vegan principles not only eliminate animal meat, dairy products, and eggs from their diets, they also remove all animal by-products. This includes honey, gelatin, collagen, and even white sugar. Oftentimes, vegans will also abstain from purchasing certain products if they contain any form of animal product.
It’s worth noting that there is a subset of vegans as well, known as raw vegans. These individuals will only consume raw, uncooked plant-based foods. This way of life is generally believed to be a testament to the way our ancestors lived before they had access to fire for cooking. However, there is debate within the scientific and nutritional communities about whether or not a raw vegan diet has any additional benefits to a vegan or other vegetarian diet.
While there is some debate within the vegetarian community as to whether a pescatarian diet should be considered vegetarian, for our purposes, we’re putting it on the list! Pescatarians are those individuals who choose to continue eating fish and shellfish while eliminating other land animal proteins from their diet, including chicken, pork, and beef. Depending on each person’s approach to this diet, pescatarians may or may not consume eggs or dairy products.
Given the minimal restrictions put in place by a pescatarian lifestyle, this can be an excellent great option for someone who would like to reduce their consumption of animal proteins significantly, but may not be prepared to completely eliminate them as a source of protein and nutrition. Fish and other seafood have also been shown to provide considerable health benefits, especially cardiovascular health. So, those who struggle with certain health conditions may choose to keep seafood as a part of their regular diet.
Similarly, a pollotarian is someone who eliminates red meat and pork from their diet but will continue to consume poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, and other fowl. For some individuals, this is a step on their journey to eliminating animal proteins, while others may be more concerned about the health effects of consuming red meat. Like a pescatarian diet, pollotarians have slightly fewer restrictions than other types of vegetarians, and so it may be an easier transition into a plant-based lifestyle.
Finally, the last type of vegetarianism is what has been deemed flexitarian. As the name suggests, those following this lifestyle are flexible with their diet and the limitations they place on themselves when it comes to food. As opposed to the rest of the vegetarian spectrum, flexitarians may not completely eliminate animal proteins or animal products from their diet. Instead, they often make a conscious and concerted effort to reduce their consumption of these foods while still eating them occasionally or under certain conditions. For example, a flexitarian may reduce meat consumption to only two days per week or limit themselves only to eating grass-fed beef or pasture-raised eggs.
The flexitarian diet is excellent for someone who would like to make changes to their diet, but may not be prepared or have the motivation to do a complete overhaul of their lifestyle. Opting into this lifestyle gives you more time to consider the meatless product offerings available to you, while also learning more about both the health benefits and environmental impact changing your diet can have.
In fact, many people are most likely flexitarians whether they realize it or not. There has been a significant increase in those interested in a vegetarian lifestyle due to the rise in coverage regarding the benefits. However, most people have grown up with a meat-centric diet and find it challenging to switch immediately. So, flexitarianism allows them to slowly make changes that they can be consistent with over a longer period of time. This is one of our best tips on how to start a plant-based diet! Check out our blog to learn more.
Making the Right Choice
With all this variety among the different types of vegetarians, it may feel overwhelming to choose. However, this is the opposite of what these classifications indicate. In short, there are so many different types of vegetarians because there is no “right” choice or way to become plant-based. Each category developed because those individuals were simply doing what worked best for them, their preferences, and their lifestyle.
As you consider shifting to a plant-based diet, you need to do the same. Do not try to force yourself into a diet that you aren’t ready for or comfortable with. Instead, start slow by making small changes and make different choices as you want to. These lifestyles don’t always have to be restrictive! It is still possible to have events such as a vegetarian BBQ – complete with some great vegan summer recipes! And always remember that there is no “right” when it comes to being a vegetarian. There is only what works for you!
About the Author
Angela Walker is a BANT and CNHC registered nutritional therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience, including 8 years with the award-winning, Optimum Health Clinic. Angela is a Nutrition Consultant for Meatless Farm, where she develops nutrition research and communicates the personal health benefits of eating plant-based foods. Angela is also a nutritionist and performance coach of Food for Thought, a program designed to change the way people think about food, diet and nutrition, based on the principles and practices of personalized nutrition and functional medicine. Angela is a published author of many well-known articles including ‘Case Studies in Personalized Nutrition’, a core text at many of the training providers for nutritional therapy and personalized nutrition in the UK and US.