7 Types of Vegetarian Diets Explained

Vegetarian diet can provide environmental, ethical, and health benefits. Learn the different types of vegetarian diets.

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by
Merve Ceylan
— Signos
Health Writer & Dietitian
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Reviewed by

Merve Ceylan
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
February 20, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Vegetarianism is gaining attention for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Vegetarian diets describe various plant-based eating patterns that include and exclude various animal foods. Vegetarian eating has become appealing to many by offering flexible plant-based nutrition for almost all dietary preferences. Read more to learn the types of vegetarian diets to choose the best fit for you.

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Why Should You Start a Diet Without Meat?

Most people follow a vegetarian diet for environmental, ethical, and health reasons. Industrialized farming creates a cruel environment and procedures that are not ethical. However, vegetarianism doesn't exclude all animal foods; it mostly limits meat, which has an enormous environmental impact. For example, the livestock industry uses more agricultural land, water, and fossil fuels to produce meat than soy.¹ 

Besides ethical and environmental reasons, most people adopt plant-based diets to improve their health. Vegetarian and vegan diets are gaining more attention because plant-based eating has been associated with lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.² Healthy plant-based diets provide good amounts of fiber and antioxidant compounds and restrict meat, which is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.³ 

How to Plan a Healthy Vegetarian Diet

Plant-based eating does not automatically mean healthy eating. Many plant-based foods can be unhealthy because they're ultra-processed and high in added sugars, salts, and trans fats. Therefore, it's necessary to plan a healthy and balanced vegetarian diet that includes whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, eggs, and fish while minimizing processed foods.⁴

A healthy and balanced vegetarian diet should include all necessary nutrients, enough protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Pay attention to:

  1. Eating a Variety of Foods: Consume foods from all food groups you're allowed to eat. Incorporate a variety of whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables into your diet. 
  2. Eat Plenty of Protein: You can get enough protein with nutritional planning. Try to consume protein sources at every meal. If you're ovo- or lacto-ovo vegetarian, incorporate eggs into your diet since they have the highest protein quality. Also, eating grains and beans together improves the protein quality of the meal. 
  3. Buying Fortified Foods: If you consume packaged products such as plant milk and soy, you can look for those fortified with B12, vitamin D, calcium, and iron, essential nutrients lacking in plant foods. 
  4. Reading Labels: Vegetarian people commonly consume plant milk, soy products, and meat substitutes, which are processed foods. Therefore, it's essential to read labels to avoid products high in added sugars, saturated fats, and salt. 
  5. Preventing Nutrient Deficiencies: If your diet lacks certain food groups, you'll likely experience nutrient deficiencies in the long term. Routine doctor visits can be a good idea to see if your nutrient levels are normal. If not, your doctor may suggest a medication or food supplement to provide lacking nutrients. 
  6. Consulting a Dietitian: Following a diet with restrictions can be challenging, especially at first. It's always a good idea to visit a dietitian to be informed about the potential risks and benefits of a vegetarian diet and get a personalized nutrition program that helps you get all the required nutrients and prevent possible nutrient deficiencies.

Nutrients may include but are not limited to:

  • Calcium: Dairy and dairy products are good sources of calcium. Vegan and vegetarian diets that exclude calcium may pose a risk to bone health. Fortified plant-based products (such as soy milk and tofu), kale, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, almonds, and Brazil nuts contain calcium 
  • Vitamin D: It is essential for bone health, besides many other physiological functions such as hormone synthesis, immune support, cell growth, and development. Although the sun is the primary source of vitamin D, some foods such as fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified products contain the vitamin
  • Vitamin B12: Vegans and vegetarians are more vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency because eggs, dairy, and some seafood, such as salmon and clams, are high in vitamin B12. Some vegetarians eat eggs and dairy; however, vegans don't. Plant foods are not a good source of vitamin B12, so most vegans consume fortified foods or take supplements
  • Omega 3: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish and plant foods such as nuts and seeds, including walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, and soybean oil
  • Fatty Acids: Animal and processed foods are sources of saturated fats (unhealthy fats). Plant-based eating contains unsaturated fats (healthy fats) from nuts, seeds, avocados, and some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils
  • Iodine: Vegetarian eating styles, especially vegan diets, have been associated with lower iodine intake. Seafood, eggs, dairy, and fortified salt are good dietary sources of iodine⁵
  • Iron: Iron deficiency causes anemia. Although plant foods contain iron, their absorption is less effective than animal foods. Plant foods such as beans, legumes, dried fruits, and whole grains contain little iron 
  • Zinc: This mineral found in animal and plant foods, but zinc in animal foods is absorbed better than in plant foods. It is primarily found in seafood, yogurt, cheese, and fortified products. Plant sources of zinc are beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds
  • Protein: Contrary to popular belief, you can get enough protein with plant-based eating. Plant foods high in protein include but are not limited to legumes, beans, soy foods such as tofu and tempeh, seitan, and meat substitutes

A vegetarian diet is not an automatically healthy way of eating. Many vegetarian foods can be high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated fats, salt, and added sugars. Therefore, limiting these ingredients is recommended as in any diet.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href="becoming-vegetarian">Becoming Vegetarian: 10 Beginner's Tips</a>.</p>

7 Types of Vegetarian Diets You Can Try

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A vegetarian diet can accommodate your dietary preferences by offering various types of vegetarian diets, including but not limited to the following:

  • Semi-Vegetarian (Flexitarian): Doesn't have strict dietary restrictions. May occasionally include small amounts of meat or fish in their diet
  • Pesco-Vegetarian: Only excludes meats except seafood
  • Lacto-Vegetarian: Consumes dairy and dairy but doesn't consume other animal products
  • Ovo-Vegetarian: Only consumes eggs as animal-derived foods
  • Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Consumes eggs and dairy but excludes all other animal-derived foods
  • Vegan: Doesn't consume any animal products
  • Raw-Food Vegan: Primarily eats uncooked and unprocessed plant foods and doesn't consume animal-derived foods

Semi-Vegetarian (Flexitarian)

A flexitarian diet is the most flexible vegetarian diet because it doesn't require eliminating any foods. A flexitarian follows a plant-based diet yet occasionally eats meat and fish.⁶

The flexitarian diet appeals to people who continue eating meat but want to improve their health, animal welfare, and the environment. There is a set definition, so some refer to not reducing meat intake compared to before, while some refer to eating meat at most three times a week. 

Many people are medically advised to reduce red meat intake since overeating red meat has been associated with an increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and colon cancer.⁷

Pesco-Vegetarian (Pescatarian)

Pesco-vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet except for eating fish and other seafood. Pescatarian benefits from omega-3 fatty acids provided by seafood. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating two servings of fish per week to support heart health because omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, and higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol).⁸

Lacto-Vegetarian

Lacto-vegetarians only consume dairy as animal food. They don't consume eggs, meat, and fish. Bone health is one of the concerns about vegetarian eating due to lower calcium intake. Lacto-vegetarian diets provide enough calcium by incorporating dairy in the diet. Therefore, it'd be better suited for people carrying a higher risk for bone-related diseases such as osteoporosis. 

Ovo-Vegetarian

Lacto-vegetarians only consume eggs and exclude all other animal foods such as dairy, meat, and fish. Eggs provide high-quality protein, vitamin A, and B vitamins, including vitamin B12 and vitamin D, and minerals such as iron and selenium.

Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian

Most vegetarians follow a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, meaning they consume dairy and eggs but not other animal foods. Lacto-ovo vegetarians are less likely to have calcium or vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Vegan

Vegans do not consume any animal-derived foods, including honey. Their diet is entirely plant-based, consisting of grains, lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based products such as plant milk, tofu, and soy meats. 

Their nutrition planning needs more attention since they will likely experience nutrient deficiencies. 

Raw-Food Vegan

Raw-food vegan diet mainly involves grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It's about not consuming foods cooked or processed above 40 to 49 °C (104–120 °F). Concerns around raw-food vegan diets are loss of menstrual cycle, being underweight, nutrient deficiencies, and food-borne illnesses.9,10

Choosing the Right Vegetarian Diet for You

First, Acknowledge Why You Chose to Eat Vegetarian

People have different reasons to choose a vegetarian diet, from an ethical to a health perspective. Since there are many vegetarian diets, acknowledging your motivations to follow a vegetarian diet can help you choose and sustain a vegetarian diet to meet your nutritional preferences, needs, and requirements. 

Then, Consult Your Healthcare Provider

While vegetarianism may offer health benefits, it must be acknowledged that it has some drawbacks, such as an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to serious health problems. 

You should consult your healthcare provider and dietitian to discuss potential health benefits and risks vegetarian eating can offer for your health. Nutritional needs and requirements can change from person to person. Getting a personalized approach to a vegetarian diet is essential to maximize health benefits and minimize health risks. 

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos' Expert Advice

A patient's nutrition and lifestyle can greatly impact choosing the proper medications to manage diabetes. Diabetes patients are given different types of diabetes medications based on general health status, medical history, diet, exercise, other lifestyle factors, use of other drugs, response to diabetes medicine (if different medications were used before), and so on.

Signos's continuous glucose monitoring system provides blood glucose levels at any time. It also enables you to track nutrition, exercise, and hydration, which can help you understand changes in your blood glucose levels and your response to given medications, which can be leveraged by your healthcare provider to identify proper medication and dosage. Are you wondering if Signos is a good fit for you? A quick quiz can give you the answer.  

To learn more about managing blood glucose levels, read Signos' blog, which features diabetes-related articles curated by experts.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href="vitamin-b12-for-vegetarians">Vitamin B12 for Vegetarians: Best Sources and Foods Explained</a>.</p>

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References

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  9. Cunningham, E. (2004). What is a raw foods diet and are there any risks or benefits associated with it?. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104(10), 1623.
  10. Koebnick, C., Strassner, C., Hoffmann, I., & Leitzmann, C. (1999). Consequences of a long-term raw food diet on body weight and menstruation: results of a questionnaire survey. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 43(2), 69-79.

About the author

Merve Ceylan is a dietitian and health writer.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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