Vegetarianism is a broad term to cover several different diets that primarily consist of plant-based foods and often exclude animal based foods. I will give a brief rundown of the different types of most common vegetarian diets.
Whether the choice is moral, allergy based, religious or culturally based, or just personal preference, I will go over what the diets generally consist of and what they exclude. I will also go over the dangers and precautions of these diets. Remember, as with any other lifestyle or medical choice, your diet should be what is best for you; that means what is best for you consciously as well as what is best for your body. Changing an adherence in order to prevent further medical complications is a decision that is up to you to make, but something you should acknowledge when you are considering a dietary change. I also remind you to talk with your doctor, do your own research, and make sure your body can thrive with the diet you choose.
Ovo-Lacto Vegetarianism: Plant based diet that also includes eggs, dairy, and some animal by-products*.
Ovo Vegetarianism: Plant based diet that includes eggs, but not dairy. (May or may not contain animal by-products*)
Lacto Vegetarianism: Plant based diet that includes dairy, but not eggs. (May or may not contain animal by-products*)
Veganism: Plant based diet that excludes all products and by-products* made from animals.
Raw Vegan Diet: Plant based diet using only fresh and uncooked produce, nuts, and seeds.
Fruitarianism: Eat only fruits, nuts, seeds and plant matter that can be taken from a plant without harming the plant.
Buddhist Vegetarianism: Plant based diet that excludes any animal flesh or animal by-product* and allum** vegetables.
Jain Vegetarianism: Plant based diet that consume dairy and some animal by-products* but does not include eggs, honey, or root vegetables.
Pescetarianism: Plant based diet that includes some animal by-products* and seafood. Considered a “semi-vegetarian diet.”
Pollo-pescetarianism: Plant based diet that includes some animal by-products*, seafood, and chicken (white meat only). Considered a “semi-vegetarian diet.”
Pollotarianism: Plant based diet that includes some animal by-products* and poultry. Considered a “semi-vegetarianism diet.”
Macrobiotic Diet: Diet consisting of whole grains and beans only.
Sattvic Diet or Yogic Diet: Plant based diet that does not consume animal products or by-products*, honey, eggs, allum** vegetables, red lentils, durian fruit, mushrooms, fermented foods and sauces, any alcoholic beverages, green tea, black tea, chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, and any other stimulant spices and peppers, blue cheese and other fermented and aged products.
*Animal by-products include sugars refined with bone char, gelatins made with collagen and materials from animal bones, baking soda or any other product tested on animals, apple juice and alcohol clarified with gelatin or bone char, cheese made from rennet from animal stomach enzymes, or any other product made with anything from an animal or tested on animals
**Allum vegetables include onions, garlic, shallots, scallions, leeks, and chives.
(Diet specifications were pulled from the Vegetarianism Wiki page as they had the most centralized and simplistic listings to explain the individual differences in the various vegetarian lifestyles.)
Vegetarian diets are usually based on a moral obligation to eliminate products that are obtained through the death or harm of animals (and sometimes plants). Medically, a vegetarian diet is rarely ever suggested as there are very few issues that a plant-based diet can directly assist with. Because of the lowered consumption of fats and salts, the diet can be beneficial to those with heart disease issues and medical issues related to the heart and high blood pressure. I did not list a source for this information because there is research saying both it is better and that it is worse. Conflicting research means that they either aren’t sure, or that the tests have been biased and only looking at the issues from one angle. The only medical issue that has been confirmed as being reduced by a vegetarian diet is heart disease.
With the proper nutritional balance, a vegetarian diet can be a healthy lifestyle for an adult. Finding a proper balance is the major issue and can be the downfall of those seeking an animal-free diet, but is not unobtainable. A vegetarian diet is not suggested for omnivorous and carnivorous animals, nor is it safe for children. There are several reasons for this, and I will go over them. I know this is a highly debated issue, and many will not be fond of me saying this. Unfortunately for those who believe I am incorrect, the science and medical studies done thus far agree with my reasoning’s (or should I say, I agree with theirs).
There are a few issues with a vegetarian diet that you have to take into consideration.
The first is that it is a lifestyle change and one that can be expensive and difficult to jump right into. Cheap processed foods, quick meals, fast food, and many household staples are not vegetarian-friendly. Don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to toss every single thing and start all over if it is a new lifestyle for you. You also may be in a household where the transition is only occurring for some of the members and not all. This can cause aggravation and, in some cases, temptation, but remember your choices are yours, not anyone else’s. This goes two ways. They have no right to judge you or make it more difficult for you. The second way? You have no right to push your lifestyle choice on someone else or judge them because of the decisions you have decided to make. Call that a pro-tip.
Another problem with a vegetarian lifestyle is that the human body needs certain nutrients that either can’t be found in plant-based foods, is in a much lower concentrate in plant-based foods, or can have difficulty with absorption due to a plant based diet. If you do not take care to make sure your body is getting and absorbing all the nutrients you need, you may end up facing severe health issues. Malnutrition, malabsorption, hyperhomocysteinemia (a blood disorder from vitamin deficiency and an inability to properly absorb folic acid or folate), anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, indigestion and gastrointestinal issues, bone problems, and eating disorders.
So what do you need to make sure you are getting enough of that is not typical of a vegetarian diet?
Calcium (bone strength and structure): Fortified soy milk or almond milk and/or supplements.
Iron (blood production): Black beans, cashews, hemp seed, kidney beans, broccoli, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, black-eyed peas, soybeans, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, whole wheat (if you have GERD,Hiatall hernias, a Nissen Fundoplication procedure, sensitivities to gassy or acidic foods, then beans, lentils, greens, broccoli, and tomato are not the best option and can cause further medical issues).
Folic Acid (folate is the name of the natural source, used for brain function and mental health): Fortified foods and supplements (often has absorption issues with plant based diets).
Omega 3 Fatty Acids (brain growth, organ health and function, block inflammation, helps immune system): Fish and/or supplements.
Protein and Polyunsaturated Fats (muscle growth, strength, energy): Pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios, flax seeds, soy, oats, and walnuts.
Vitamin B (B12) (energy conversion, cell metabolism, necessary for body function and health): Fortified yeast extracts, fortified grains, and supplements.
Vitamin D (mineral absorption, intestinal health and function, calcium disbursement, bone health, immune system health): Fortified foods, supplements, and sunlight.
Fortified means that the mineral, vitamin, or nutrient has been added to the food. Basically, consuming something that is fortified means that it is supplemented by having that added to it.
As long as you pay attention to your body’s nutritional needs, a vegetarian diet can be safe for you to follow if you do not suffer from the following medical conditions (this doesn’t mean you can’t be a vegetarian with the following conditions, only that it is much more difficult and can become unsafe rather quickly if you are not careful):
Celiac Disease: Because people with Celiac Disease often suffer from malabsorption (issues with absorbing nutrients) and can’t have the majority of grains easily accessible on the market, a vegetarian diet can be rather difficult to adhere to safely. Most supplements also contain gluten as it is used as a binding agent and colorant in many pills and tablets.
Diabetics: Fruits and carbohydrates are often a good chunk of a vegetarian diet. His can make it difficult to eat a balanced diet when your options are vegetables and grains, seeds, and fruits are carefully monitored and consumed. The limitations can make a healthy balance hard to obtain.
Some auto-immune diseases and issues with malabsorption: Supplements (and fortified foods, which are ones that are supplemented) are the best way to get the right amount of Vitamins B and D, Omega 3s, Folate and calcium. These are necessary to help your immune system, especially if it is already weakened, and assist with energy and mental health.
Bone diseases: Vitamin D and Calcium are imperative for good bone health. There are contradicting test results in this area, but for the most part, there is concern of bone loss or weakness when a person does not have a proper intake of D and calcium.
Anemia and Blood disorders: Iron, protein and Vitamin D are necessary for a well functioning blood and cellular system growth and health. Anemia is common among those that adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, as most produce containing the mineral contain a substantially lower amount than what is found in animal based foods.
If you have any medical issue that puts a burden on any bodily system or is from any form of deficiency or malabsorption, please talk to your doctor before you go on a die that excludes large portions of your nutritional intake. When I say doctor, I do mean a medically qualified physician and not a nutritionist or natural health specialist or the like. They may mean well, but as I have explained, I can find articles both supporting and contesting parts of any diet and they are medically sound.
The truth is, EVERYONE is DIFFERENT. Different bodies, different body types, different medical issues, different medicines, different systems, and different lifestyles. What is healthy for one may not be healthy for another. You and your doctor know about everything that would have an effect on your body, and you know more than anyone else in the entire world. Do what is right for you, mentally and physically, and take care of you.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me. Remember, I am not a physician or licensed medical doctor. I do have medical experience, as both a health care worker and as a patient, and I am a writer and researcher who relies heavily on science. My information is simply information and how you use it is up to you. My opinion on these matters does not reflect in my writing of them. My goal is to be informative and to help everyone with this information to the best of my abilities.
Harvard Medical Information on Vegetarian Diets
Mayo Clinic- Vegetarian Health Information