A Nutritionist’s Guide to The Different Types of Vegetarian Diets

As the first month of new year is almost over, there are likely to be a number of people who decide to switch to a vegetarian diet, or at least try it on for size. I thought that now would be a good time to post a short primer on the different types of vegetarians and some tips on getting plenty of nutrition on each of the various types of vegetarian diets.

This week, I discovered a blog that I’ve really enjoyed reading, called The NuttyNutritionist.com.

It’s not a vegetarian blog, but licensed nutritionist Linda Kaminsky has some great articles on the vegetarian diet. This past week, she posted “You Gotta Eat!“, which is an introduction to the different types of vegetarian diets and some very good advice on how to eat well, no matter which vegetarian diet you choose. I especially like the focus on teen and young women, so if you know someone in that age group who’s thinking of going vegetarian, you should definitely pass this post on to her.

vegetarian starter guide - types of vegetarian diets 2

As Kaminsky explains, vegetarians can basically be divided into vegan, ovo-lacto vegetarians, pescetarians (still eat fish but no meat), and flexitarians, who eat meat, but only certain types or very rarely. I would add plain old vegetarian to that list, as she excludes non-vegans who do not eat dairy or eggs. Not all of those vegetarians shun wearing animal products or go so far as to eliminate gelatin or other animal-derived products, but the diets are largely the same.

Vegans not only exclude meat from their diets, but also things like butter, gelatin and anything else derived from animal products. Many vegans also do not wear animal products or use leather and other materials that are made from any animal.

For both of these groups, Kaminsky advises that,

This strict form of vegetarianism is the most challenging and the avoidance of ALL animal foods limits one’s intake of complete proteins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, putting one at nutritional risk when not implemented properly. A nutritionally adequate vegan diet should include soy products, such as tofu, edamame, soymilk, and soy yogurt, which contain all essential amino acids to support bodily growth and repair(“complete” proteins).”

For ovo-lacto or lacto-vegetarians, (those who still eat dairy products and eggs) it’s a bit easier to get the protein and calcium that can be a bit harder to get in a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Provided one is consuming dairy products and eggs on a regular basis, there is little need for concern over adequate protein intake, as animal proteins are “complete”, providing all essential amino acids for proper bodily growth and repair.This form of vegetarianism is also likely to meet one’s nutritional needs for vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc provided fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, and legumes are included as well.”

Kaminsky does caution ovo-lacto vegetarians to be sure they’re getting enough iron by eating fortified whole grains and plenty of leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale.

Kaminsky has some specific advice for teen and young girls, who she says often adopt a vegetarian diet as a way to lose weight.

Now, if you are a parent of a child or teen looking to become vegetarian, it is important to discuss his or her reasons for desiring a vegetarian lifestyle and to review the wide variety of vegetarian practices that exist today. I tend to encourage the lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle for most children and teens, as it is generally the easiest to follow and contains the widest variety of nutrients that growing bodies need.”

Understand that this post isn’t meant to favor or support one type of vegetarian diet over another. I started out as a pescetarian (still ate fish), then became an ovo-lacto and am now working my way toward vegan or “strict” vegetarian. Each person has their own reasons for going vegetarian and each person has to find their own best way to do that. There are several types of vegetarian diets because we are a wonderfully diverse community.

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3 Responses to A Nutritionist’s Guide to The Different Types of Vegetarian Diets

  1. Jenny Sangler January 24, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    What type of vegetarian diet would you like to consider and why? Kindly leave your thoughts below.

    – Jenny Sangler

  2. Stacey January 25, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    Ive been a lacto ovo vegetarian since 98 and now aspiring to be vegan. I gave up wearing animals before I stopped eating meat, usually it’s the other way around but my mom and dad didnt agree with me cutting out meat while under their roof so that came later after I was on my own.

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