In general, vegetarians don’t eat meat. After that it gets complicated. Can they eat animal by products like gelatin? What about dairy? Is fish or shell fish considered meat?
There are different kinds of vegetarian diets, with varying degrees of strictness and their own nutritional challenges. For example, ovo-lacto vegetarians take in cheese, butter and milk which helps meet the recommended daily allowance for protein. Fruitarians, on the other hand, will only take in raw fruit and seeds, thus making it extra challenging to get regular sources of amino acids and may require special supplements.
Here are the different kinds of vegetarian diets, and what is allowed under each.
Vegetarians will not eat any animal flesh. This includes red meat while pork and beef, white meat like chicken and turkey, and fish and seafood.
Strictly speaking, true vegetarian diets should also exclude anything that has been made from animal byproducts. This includes gelatin, which is made from animal bones, or anything where an animal must be slaughtered.
People may pursue vegetarianism from a religious or an ethical reason. For example, believers of Mahayana Buddhism advocate it as a way of learning compassion for all living things. Seventh-Day Adventists also encourage vegetarianism, and in their position statement, explains: “For more than 130 years Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. Whatever is done in eating or drinking should honor and glorify God and preserve the health of the body, mind and spirit.”
Some people cut back on certain types of meat, avoiding pork and beef because of the high cholesterol and fat content, but eating poultry and fish. Or, some may eat vegetables on most days, but indulge in meat once a week or on special occasions.
Semi-vegetarians often choose this diet for health reasons, because of studies that link a high-meat diet with heart disease and cancer. Others say that they feel lighter and more energetic, or no longer suffer from constipation because fish and vegetables are easier to digest.
3. Ovo-Lacto Vegetarians
Ovo-lacto vegetarians not only cut out meat and fish, but also eggs and dairy products. And, to complicate matters, there are variations of this category. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs but no dairy, while lacto-vegetarians eat dairy but no eggs.
Ovo-lacto vegetarians do have a much stricter diet, since they can’t even take bread, pastries, ice cream, chocolate or any food product that uses milk or egg as an ingredient. However, with creative meal planning—and access to specialty ovo-lacto vegetarian cookbooks and support groups—it is possible to follow this strict diet and still enjoy excellent food.
Vegans follow a very strict diet that doesn’t even allow products from animals, such as honey (made by bees) or milk.
Vegans can meet their nutritional requirements by eating a variety of vegetables, whole grain products, nuts, legumes and seeds. Lentils, soy milk, peanut butter and chickpeas are excellent sources of protein. There is no danger of getting “bored” by the food—there are numerous ways to prepare these ingredients.
5. Raw Food Diet
A lot of the nutrients in vegetables can be lost during food preparation. Vitamin C, for example, tends to be very unstable when exposed to heat. That’s why some vegetarians adopt a raw food diet (often called a “living food” diet).
Fruitarians don’t even eat vegetables, because of environmental reasons. They believe that the cultivation of vegetables in modern society—which involves razing down forests to make room for crops, plus the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides—harms the Earth. They will only eat raw fruit and seeds, which have been picked from trees without any damage to the plant.
7. Pescetarian diet
Pescetarians eat vegetables and fish, but avoid red and white meat like pork, beef and chicken. However, the Vegetarian Society does not officially recognize pescetarians, since fish is still technically a meat.