Different Types of Vegetarians

Most people probably know that:

Vegetarians do not eat meat products.

However, there are different types of vegetarians.
This is partly due to different views about:

" What is a meat product ? "

  • Is fish a type of meat ?
    Most vegetarians would say 'yes'.
  • What about eggs ? Chicken eggs are, afterall, chicken embryos. Does it matter if eggs are fertilized or not ?
  • What about dairy-products such as milk, cream, cheese & yogurts?

The two main types of vegetarian diet are:

  • Vegetarian (no meat or fish or any product made using any part of any animal, including fish and sea-creatures, but products derived from live animals are acceptable so dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese and eggs are included in the diet). This type of vegetarian diet is also called ovolactovegetarian - because eggs and milk products are acceptable.

and

  • Vegan (no meat or fish or any product made using any part of any animal, including fish and sea-creatures, and also excluding any and all products derived from animals - so dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese and eggs are not eaten and other products produced by animals e.g. honey - because that is made by bees - are also unacceptable.)

Other words and expressions refer to diets that are "almost vegetarian", "mostly vegetarian" or a specific type of vegetarian diet.

These include:

  • Lactovegetarian (no meat or fish products or any eggs are acceptable but dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese, ice-cream and yogurts are eaten).
  • Ovovegetarian, (no meat, fish or dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese etc. are acceptable but eggs are eaten).
  • Ovolactovegetarian, also known as lacto-ovo-vegetarian (as described above - top of page - as simply "vegetarian", probably the most common case in which no meat or fish products are acceptable but milk and eggs are eaten, usually including eggs from both poultry and fish).
  • Raw Food (in many cases vegan uncooked food, although some food processing such a blending e.g. to make smoothies is done). Raw food diets are usually followed for health reasons, although sometimes by people who were already vegetarian or vegan for other reasons. The good health of people who follow raw food diets successfully proves that this is possible, at least for them. However considerable knowledge is dedication is necessary to ensure sufficient appropriate nutrition while following a vegan raw food diet. There may also be social challenges involved due to the limited range of raw food options in many cafes, pubs, restaurants and hotels.
  • Fruitarian (raw food vegan diet but only including fruits, greens, and some nuts and seeds).
  • Organic-only vegetarian or vegan (very difficult to follow strictly in some places; implies concern about chemicals and/or the possibility of genetically modified organisms in the environment and/or food chain).
  • Low Fat Vegetarian (could be any type of vegetarian, i.e. lactovegetarian, ovovegetarian or ovolactovegetarian, with the additional constraint that the overall diet consists of less than 10% of its calories i.e. "energy" from fat). This may be due to a vegetarian diet by choice or religious commitment with modification for health/medical reasons. This would ideally be supported with appropriate expert knowledge.
  • Pescovegetarian also called pescatarian (no meat or any product made using any part of any land-animal including poultry and other birds, but dairy products such as milk, cream, cheese and eggs are included in the diet and fish and sea-creatures such as shell-fish e.g. crab, mussels, cockles etc., and crustaceans e.g. prawns and lobsters are eaten).
    Note: This is not generally considered truly vegetarian but it is quite a widespread lifestyle choice and meets some health, environmental, and animal welfare reasons why some people choose "vegetarian" diets.
  • "Semi-vegetarian" is not really a category of vegetarian diet either but is a description sometimes applied to the diets of people who do not eat a substantial type or category of meat products, e.g. "no red meat". So, people who do not eat red meat and call themselves "semi-vegetarian" may still eat both fish and "white meats" such as chicken.
    This can be confusing. If in doubt it is safest to assume that "vegetarians" do not eat any meat or fish products including strictly no animal derivatives such as gelatin in sweets or desserts.

Other variations include people who take a firm animal welfare position so will not eat farmed animal products in order to be certain that they do not consume animals whose quality of life might have been low, but will eat wild game (e.g. pheasants or other birds) and sea-fish. A different example is ovolactovegetarians who consider dairy products to be ethically acceptable but are only able to eat certain types of cheeses e.g. goats' cheeses rather than cows' cheeses due to allergies or intolerances. Some people do not want to explain their reasons every time they need to state what type of diet they follow and so simply state "vegetarian" or "vegan" even if they do make certain exceptions - for any reason at all. It is therefore safest to assume "no exceptions" but don't be offended or too surprised if they don't seem to be quite as strict as expected.

Temporary or occasional 'vegetarians'

A few examples of words used to communicate eating restrictions:

  • vegetarian - no animal products, including no fish or seafood
  • vegan - no animal, fish, dairy, or other foods derived from or made by animals incl. insects
  • raw food - definitions may vary but often uncooked vegan
  • diabetic - diet subject to management of the medical condition diabetes - which can have different levels of severity
  • gluten-free - diet restricted by the constraints of coeliac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine; need to avoid foods that contain gluten
  • kosher - diet meets Jewish religious requirements
  • halal - food meets Muslim religious requirements

When people eat outside their homes or eat food prepared by other people they may need to state which, if any, foods they do or do not eat. Some common examples of short words or expressions used to summarize diets are listed on the right. Some of these words refer to medical conditions while others indicate religious adherence. In the cases of vegetarian and vegan diets the person's reason for their dietary requirements may, or may not, be obvious and, of course, in many cases it would not be polite to expect a reason.

However, it is useful to know that some people who follow religious dietary rules may describe themselves as 'vegetarian' only while they are away from their usual religious or cultural environment (incl. their own home) in order to avoid the possibility of being offered or unknowingly consuming food that does not meet certain religious rules. For example, some Muslims studying abroad in Western countries choose to live as vegetarians while studying in order to avoid the possibility of consuming non-halal meat, either in the form of animal flesh or in the form of products derived from animal carcasses such as gelatine. This type of vegetarianism can be compared with that of followers of some Hindu and Buddhist traditions who avoid meat products for religious reasons.

See also the main types of foods in a vegetarian diet, what are the benefits of a vegetarian diet? and
what are the possible deficiencies in a vegetarian diet ?

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AMA endorses 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (USA) - 8 Jan '16

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Angel cards can be helpful and fun. Decks are available from good bookshops and online.

This is not medical, First Aid or other advice and is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Consult an expert in person. Care has been taken when compiling this page but accuracy cannot be guaranteed. This material is copyright.

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