The confusion surrounding the different types of vegetarian diet never ceases to amaze us here at Happy Happy Vegan. When most people are asked what a vegetarian is, their response is probably usually something along the lines of “Someone who doesn’t eat meat.”
I am constantly surprised that people are not aware that there are many types of vegetarian; ranging from those who occasionally add meat or fish (controversial, I know!) to their diet to people who exclusively eat raw fruit and vegetables.
In order to clear things up, I’ve put together a list of all the different vegetarian diets out there. Many of you who are already fully vegan may see this as a strange thing to have on a vegan website, but I’m not promoting or judging any of them.
Instead, all this aims to do is lay down the differences between the diets and let people know that there are many different forms of vegetarianism in the world today. No rights, no wrongs, just what they are.
Here we go!
‘Flexitarian’ is a relatively new term and flexitarians are often criticized for their lack of commitment as a vegetarian. This is a type of on-off vegetarian diet where a person generally follows a plant-based way of living but will occasionally eat meat or fish, dairy and eggs.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this doesn’t sound all that different from a regular omnivore, but it does have its benefits. Many people follow this type of diet for a short period until they make the full transition to a vegetarian, so it can be a great place to start for anyone looking to lessen their consumption of animal products.
Any move towards less meat being eaten can only be a good thing, so give those flexies a break!
A pescatarian does not eat meat, poultry or fowl, but they do eat fish and seafood. This is a semi-vegetarian diet similar to the flexitarian diet and some people do not consider this a vegetarian diet at all. Pescatarians also include eggs and dairy in their diet.
With fish stocks rapidly depleting, it’s easy to see why pescatarians get so much grief. However, as with their flexatarian friends, they are still eating fewer animal products than those who stick to the Standard American Diet. (1)
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Another controversial type of semi-vegetarian diet is pollotarian and this involves not eating red meat, fish or seafood. However, their diet does include poultry, fowl, dairy products and eggs.
As the term pollotarian stretches the definition of a vegetarian somewhat, people on this type of diet are often simply referred to as semi-vegetarians.
While this is not strictly labelled as a vegetarian diet per se, I thought it was worth a mention.
People following a macrobiotic diet eat only unprocessed and unrefined foods that predominantly include fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Although those who follow this diet can occasionally eat fish, the diet is mainly made up of vegan foodstuffs. (2)
The emphasis on the inclusion of Asian vegetables in this diet is what makes it unique and many consider the macrobiotic diet to have healing properties.
Now we are getting into the realms of what many regard as the ‘true’ vegetarians.
Of all the different types of vegetarian diet, lacto-ovo-vegetarian is the most common according to the Vegetarian Society. However, it is important to remember that they do not consider any of the above diets to be vegetarian at all.
Although all meat, poultry, fish and seafood is eliminated from this diet, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian can eat both eggs and dairy products. Many find this caveat advantageous, saying that the addition of these products helps them avoid meat.
The term ‘lacto-vegetarian’ is derived from the word ‘lactis’, meaning milk in Latin. Lacto-vegetarians do include dairy products in their diet, such as milk, cheese and yoghurts, but they do not eat meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, or products made using eggs.
Some people follow this type of vegetarian diet to due to their religious beliefs; typically ones that include a respect for all living beings.
These include Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, all of which follow the spiritual doctrine of Ahimsa. Roughly translated, Ahimsa means “to do no harm”.
An ovo-vegetarian does not eat any meat, fish or dairy products, but they do include eggs in their diet.
Both lacto-ovo-vegetarians and ovo-vegetarians will usually only eat free range eggs due to the welfare of the chickens, but this can often be misguided. Free-range chickens often suffer from horrendous conditions, too. (3)
Hey, that’s me!
Vegans do not eat meat, fish, poultry, fowl, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products or any ingredients that are derived from an animal or animal produce. We vegans avoid all forms of animal products in the name of animal rights, the environment and our own health.
It is important to remember that the term vegan not only refers to the diet, but also to the lifestyle. For example, vegans will not use or wear anything that is made from animal by-products, such as leather or wool.
Veganism goes way beyond food, it is a way of life.
Raw vegan diet
A raw vegan diet is as above, but consists entirely of raw and unprocessed food.
This means that raw vegans will not eat food that has been heated above 46 degrees Celsius. This is because raw vegans believe that doing so is harmful to the food and significantly reduces its nutritional value.
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As the name would suggest, fruitarians rely solely on fruit for their sustenance.
Fruitarianism is largely considered to be an offshoot of veganism and has some famous followers over the years, including the likes of Gandhi and Steve Jobs.
Many fruitarians will only consume foods that have been harvested without the need to kill the host plant from which the fruit came from.
Nuts and seeds can be a topic of heated debate amongst fruitarians, with some believing it is okay to eat them while others say that it is not. For those that do use them, a decent nut butter grinder is an essential piece of kit (as it is for anyone, in my opinion!)
The vegan diet is often considered to be at the extreme end of the scale, but that’s usually by those who have never even attempted it!
However, if you are thinking about it but feel a little daunted, there are plenty of resources out there to help. Heck, Happy Happy Vegan was created to help you!
Also, learning how to eat a balanced and nutritious diet is essential. Try reading a book, such as Vegan Diet for Beginners by Jessica Brooks. This gives you plenty of advice, tips, meal plans and recipes to help you make the switch successfully and in a healthy way.
Being a vegetarian is not simply a case of just not eating meat. There are many different types of vegetarian diet and lifestyle options from which you can choose.
If you are considering switching to a predominantly plant-based eating regime, learning more about your options and researching how to include all the right nutrients is really important.
Each of these diets has its own pros and cons and your reasons for becoming vegetarian or vegan are also likely to influence your decision about the best type of diet and lifestyle for you.
So, start exploring all of the different types of vegetarian diet options available and get ready to lower your consumption of animal products…or ditch them altogether!
About The Author:
David Bedford is a longtime vegan with a particular interest in nutrition and mental health. He is also a co-founder of happyhappyvegan.com.
When he isn’t sifting through PubMed or watching Dr. Greger do his thing, he’ll be banging away at a keyboard producing either copy or code. On the rare occasion when a screen isn’t in front of him, you’ll find David walking in the nearest available green space with his four-legged sidekick, Ralphie.
- Gaia Vince | How the world’s oceans could be running out of fish | https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20120920-are-we-running-out-of-fish
- Kushi Institute | What is Macrobiotic Diet? | https://www.kushiinstitute.org/what-is-macrobiotics/
- David Derbyshire | Up to 16,000 hens crammed into a shed, and many NEVER see daylight. But believe it or not, THESE are free-range chickens | https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2508173/16-000-free-range-chickens-crammed-shed-NEVER-daylight.html