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What Does It Mean to Be Vegetarian?

By HERWriter
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Being vegetarian means making different choices about the foods you eat. In general, vegetarians eat more foods that come from plants and eat little or no meat or other animal products.

Although being vegetarian is often confused with not being able to eat meat, being vegetarian is a choice to leave certain foods out of the diet, rather than a set of rules that do not permit eating animal products.

People who choose to be vegetarian choose which foods to avoid in their diets. There are several common types of vegetarian diets.

Vegetarian or lacto-ovo vegetarian
When most people think of a vegetarian diet, they are probably referring to this diet which includes milk (lacto) and eggs (ovo) but does not include beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, or any other type of meat. This group can also be divided into lacto or ovo diet which allows either milk or eggs, but not both.

This vegetarian diet includes fish as well as plants, but does not include other meats such as beef or chicken.

This term was coined to describe people who eat a diet that is mostly vegetarian, but who also sometimes eat meat. This diet is also known as semi-vegetarian.

This diet is strictly confined to plant products. Vegans do not eat any kind of meat, or any animal products such as milk, cheese, or eggs. They also avoid processed foods or other ingredients such as gelatin that are made from animal products. Some vegans also avoid foods such as sugar and some wines that make use of animal products in processing.

Raw food
Also known as raw vegan, this diet includes only unprocessed vegan foods which have not been heated to above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. People who follow this diet believe heating food depletes a significant portion of the nutrients found in the raw food.

Macrobiotic – This diet is not strictly vegetarian because it sometimes includes seafood. But it is a plant-based eating plan that restricts the use of refined sugar, dairy products and certain plants such as tomatoes and potatoes. The diet includes many Asian foods such as miso, tofu, Asian greens, and sea vegetables.

Fruitarians – This diet consists of fruits, nuts, and seeds. It does not contain substantial sources of protein and is not appropriate for young children.

Being vegetarian requires great attention to the nutritional content of foods to make sure all necessary nutrients are being consumed. Of particular concern are vitamin B12, vitamin D, Zinc, iron, calcium, and protein.

People choose to be vegetarian for a variety of reasons including religion, moral or political concerns, financial reasons, and a basic desire to eat more healthful foods. Eating a vegetarian diet can help reduce obesity, decrease the risk of heart disease, and help lower blood pressure. A vegetarian diet is generally lower in both fat and total calories than a non-vegetarian diet.

Women who are pregnant or nursing as well as elderly people should use extra caution when eating a vegetarian diet to make sure all nutritional needs are being met. Young children and adolescents eating a vegetarian diet may have a hard time getting all the nutrients and calories they need for healthy growth.


Medline Plus. Vegetarianism. Web. January 6, 2012.

About.com: Vegetarian Food. Top 7 Types of Vegetarians. Jolinda Hackett. Web. January 6, 2012.

Medline Plus. Vegetarian Diet. Web. January 6, 2012.

Net Places. Who Are Vegetarians?. Alexandra Greely. Web. January 6, 2012.

Reviewed January 9, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I don't know about vegetarian, but this is what it means to be vegan! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org

January 9, 2012 - 2:28pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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