Table of Contents > Alternative Modalities > Vegetarianism Print



Also listed as: Ovo vegetarianism, Lacto vegetarian, Lacto-ovo vegetarian, Partial vegetarian, Pescetarian, Fruitarian
Related terms
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Related Terms
  • Eggitarian, frutarian, lacto vegetarian, ovo vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, partial vegetarian, pescetarian, pesco/pollo vegetarianism, raw foods diet, semi-vegetarians, total vegetarian diet, vegan diet, vegetarian diet.

  • Vegetarianism is a dietary practice characterized by the consumption of only vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains and pulses, and excluding the consumption of all body parts of any animal and products derived from animal carcasses (such as lard, tallow, gelatin, cochineal), from one's diet.
  • The American Dietetic Association states that a well-planned vegetarian diet can be consistent with good nutritional intake. Dietary recommendations vary with the type of vegetarian diet. For children and adolescents these diets require special planning since it may be difficult to obtain all the nutrients required for growth and development. Nutrients that may be lacking in a vegetarian's diet are protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, riboflavin, calcium, zinc, and iron.
  • Flexitarianism (occasional vegetarianism): Flexitarians adhere to a diet that is mostly vegetarian but occasionally consume meat. Some, for instance, may regard the suffering of animals in factory farm conditions as their sole reason for avoiding meat or meat-based foods and will eat meat or meat products from animals raised under more humane conditions or hunted in the wild.
  • Fruitarianism: Fruitarianism is a nutrition system and a lifestyle. The diet consists of only raw fruit and seeds and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant. These fruits include pineapple, mango, banana, avocado, apple, melon, orange, all kinds of berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, nuts, hazelnuts, cashews and chestnuts. Some fruitarians eat only plant matter that has already fallen off the plant. Thus, a fruitarian will eat beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and the like, but will refuse to eat potatoes or spinach. Fruitarians may be motivated by the religious faith of the Old Testament dating back to the diet of Adam and Eve.
  • Lacto vegetarianism: Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat or eggs but do consume dairy products. Most vegetarians in India and those in the classical Mediterranean lands, such as Pythagoreans, are or were lacto vegetarian.
  • Ovo-lacto vegetarianism(also called eggitarian colloquially in India): Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat but do consume dairy products and eggs. This is currently the most common variety in the Western world.
  • Ovo vegetarianism: Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or dairy products but do eat eggs.
  • Pesco/pollo vegetarianism (semi-vegetarianism): Some people choose to avoid certain types of meat for many of the same reasons that others choose vegetarianism: health, ethical beliefs, etc. For example, some people will not eat "red meat" (mammal meat - beef, lamb, pork, etc.) while still consuming poultry and seafood. It may also be used as an interim diet by individuals who are on a path to becoming fully vegetarian.
  • Veganism: Those who avoid eating any animal products, including eggs, milk, cheese, and sometimes honey, are known specifically as dietary vegans or strict vegetarians. Most additionally avoid using animal products, such as leather and some cosmetics, and are called vegans.

Theory / Evidence
  • In one review, it was concluded that lower mortality in British vegetarians was best explained by behaviors other than their non-consumption of meat. A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
  • Other studies have reported health benefits with vegetarian diets. In an outpatient setting, 64 overweight, postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to a low-fat, vegan diet or a control diet based on National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines, without energy intake limits, and were asked to maintain exercise unchanged. Mean ± standard deviation intervention-group body weight decreased 5.8 ± 3.2 kg, compared with 3.8 ± 2.8 kg in the control group (p=0.012).
  • Vegetarian diets are often high in fiber-rich bulky foods, which produce less total calories, and thus may be beneficial for obesity. High fiber influences the health of the digestive tract. Diets low in fat and saturated fat and high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables may also lower blood pressure. Most vegetarians replace meat in their diets with foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and soybeans. These foods provide less saturated fat, more fiber, antioxidants, and promote overall lean body composition. Vegetarians tend to consume less fat and protein, and seem to produce fewer carcinogens in the body than meat eaters.


Author information
  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Barnard N, Scialli A, Turner-McGrievy G, et al. The effects of a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention on body weight, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity. Am J Med. 2005 Sep;118(9):991-7.
  2. Gamble MV, Ahsan H, Liu X, et al. Folate and cobalamin deficiencies and hyperhomocysteinemia in Bangladesh. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jun;81(6):1372-7.
  3. Higgins K. Vegetarianism, the pros and cons of a meatless diet. .
  4. Hyperhomocysteinemia. .
  5. Key TJ, Appleby PN, Davey GK, et al. Mortality in British vegetarians: review and preliminary results from EPIC. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003 Sep;78(3): 533S-538S.
  6. Wagnon J, Cagnard B, Bridoux-Henno L, et al. Breastfeeding and vegan diet. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 2005 Oct;34(6):610-2.

  • Vegetarianism has been common in the Indian subcontinent, since possibly the 2nd millennium BC for spiritual reasons, such as ahimsa (nonviolence), to avoid indulgences (as meat was considered an indulgence), and to reduce bad karmic influences. Hinduism preaches that it is the ideal diet for spiritual progress and Jainism enjoins all its followers to be vegetarian. Some Buddhist monks have also historically practiced vegetarianism.
  • Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans", after the philosopher Pythagoras, who with his followers abstained from meat in the 6th century BC. These people followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons.
  • In modern times, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto-vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20 to 30% of the population in India, while occasional meat-eaters make up another 30%.
  • Most Asian countries had a predominantly vegetarian diet until the past few decades, when increasing industrialization and westernization changed that.
  • In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism steadily grew over the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental concerns.
  • In a survey the U.S. in 2000 estimated that 2.5% of the population (N=968) were ovo-lacto-vegetarians. In 2003 the same source recorded 2.8% (N=1,031). This indicated a modest growth of 4% per year over the four years. A 1994 and 1997 survey showed about 1% (N=1,960; c.i.=95%). The general trend has been increasing.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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