What is Vegetarian? Defining Ovo/Lacto and Mainstream Vegetarianism

What is Vegetarian? Defining Ovo/Lacto and Mainstream Vegetarianism

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The reasons people choose to go on a vegetarian diet are as varied as the people who make this choice. Whether it’s for ecological, environmental, ethical or animal treatment this diet has passed the test of time. There are distinct benefits in a vegetarian diet for those who can eschew meats, most specifically red meats from their diets.

What Is Vegetarianism?

Vegetarianism can be broken down into many categories, as I have laid out below - but the important thing to note is that vegetarians that are considered mainstream eat no animal meats. This includes red meat, white meat like fish and poultry, eggs, and also dairy.

“Ovo-” comes from the Latin word for egg. This means that Ovo-Vegetarians are allowed to eat eggs on top of their base vegetarian diet. Have also been called “Eggetarians”.

“Lacto-” from the Latin root refers to milk. Lacto-Vegetarians can additionally eat dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter, ghee, cream, and kefir on their diets. Sometimes referred to as “Lactarians”.

If someone wants to follow both of the types above, they are then considered an Ovo-Lacto or Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian. An Ovo-Lacto/Lacto-Ovo vegetarian is allowed to have both dairy products and eggs. Just in case you were wondering, no there isn’t any clear indication as to which comes first the Ovo or the Lacto.

“Pollo” is the prefix for poultry. Pollo-Vegetarians skip on the red meat but will partake of poultry meats like chicken and turkey. Typically you don’t find many strict Pollotarians.

“Pesce” is the Italian word for fish. Being a Pesce-Vegetarian means you can eat aquatic animals like freshwater and saltwater fish and shellfish. Known popularly as Pescetarians.

Flexitarians are vegetarians who remain flexible in their day to day diets. Often this comes as a mixture of the above elements such as Pollo-Pesce-Ovo but sometimes does even include a sparing use of red meat on occasion. Also called Quasi- or Semi-Vegetarians, and occasionally Opportunivores or Freegans.

The last type is Veganism which removes any animal products as well as all animal by-products from the diet. They even reject something if it has traces amounts or a small percentage of animal by-products.

For length and clarity's sake, I have covered Pesce/Pollo/Flex Vegetarianism and Veganism in separate Articles here.

Learning the Diet Guidelines

Going vegetarian can certainly be life changing and life-affirming but it involves commitment and dedication. The animal eliminations from your diet are one of the core tenants of this lifestyle, but it is just as important to know is what is ideal to have on your plate. There are many vegetarian specific foods that can inspire you to new heights in the kitchen and with no loss of experimentation opportunities available to you.

What’s on your plate?

Beginning a vegetarian diet means you will be eating a lot more vegetables than you do now. In order for a vegetarian to get the best results possible, they need to plan their meals and study more about the nutrients they need and will get from certain foods.

Start by considering many vegetarian staples that increase the areas you are short in once you cut meat. Tofu, Seitan, Tempeh, edamame, lentils, nutritional yeast, and teff might sound like words from another world, but it's your world now and they fit right in next to your chickpeas, beans, peas, wild rice and grains.

What is not on your plate?

This is pretty obvious but - red meat, but also dairy products of animals. If you did want to cut yourself some slack and let a few things go, check out the healthy sub-categories. If you want to eat:

Eggs: Then you are an Ovo-vegetarian and those eggs can help you increase your protein intake as well as vital B12 and Iron along with carotenoids, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A, D, E & K.


As a Lacto-Vegetarian dairy can help you increase your intake of necessary protein, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, magnesium and vitamins A, D & B12.

Know Your Body and Your Diet

Before you go running off into your new lifestyle with your fancy animal-free diet it’s your responsibility to understand how to keep your body in balance and in health during your transition and throughout your new diet.

While it can be dangerous to attempt body hacks and massive changes without having the most basic of knowledge about it, I have compiled some basic information here to get you started but I will be putting together an in-depth article covering how to stay in health during a vegetarian diet at a future time so stay tuned.

How to Meet Your Body's Needs on the Diet

One common issue that medical professionals and dieticians have against strict vegetarianism is that practitioners often do not self educate on the important nutrient their bodies require but will be lacking in an unvaried out-of-the-box vegetarian diet.


With vegetarians typically consume fewer calories than their carnivorous counterparts if you are bulking up or even just maintaining an exercise routine it might be necessary for you to increase your intake.

Sourcing healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and oils can easily bump up your caloric intake to where you need it to be alongside a steady diet of fruits and vegetables.

If you want to know how much calories you need, you can simply download a calorie calculator & diet tracker app like Lose It. Once you discover your calorie needs, adjust your servings per meal to make sure you reach that amount.


These are critical for staying balanced throughout your day. Keep an eye on your macronutrients, but if you don't know how to get started counting these then check out my Keto and Zone diet articles that explain a lot about macronutrients.


With abundant sources of carb-heavy grains and the ever-present fruits and veggies, you should have no trouble keeping up to your limit of carbs.


Fruits and vegetables are rich in unsaturated fat and other good fat that our bodies need. Simply increase your servings or add some oils and nuts to your salads to give your numbers the boost you need.

Alternative Proteins

For all vegetarians, red meat is a no-no, and an effort (on your part) must be made to find equally inspiring substitutes for your meals. Finding a way to replace the protein found in red meat sources in honestly one of the hardest jobs of keeping a balanced diet while being any brand of vegetarian.

While there are many products that have some protein in them you should pay careful attention to tofu, seitan, tempeh, edamame, lentils, nuts, nutritional yeast, chickpeas, beans, peas and certain grains like spelt, teff, kamut, quinoa, whole wheat, wild rice, millet, couscous, oatmeal, chia seeds and buckwheat.

Thankfully there are more and more sources being made available now than ever before. With pea, whey and rice protein blends being used heavily among the health conscious it's time we put them to use for your new diet.

Macronutrient Maths

The vegetarian diets do not typically count the macronutrients or calories, instead they go by a “healthy food equals healthy body” belief. I personally suggest looking into what your body needs for macronutrients daily and start trying to hit those - no matter what diet you’re on.

To give you an idea my personal goals for macronutrients are 37% protein, 47% carbs, and 16% fat. You can check out how I shed weight using this macro split here.

Diet Lifestyle

Like any diet that is worth its weight in salt, changes to your lifestyle require dedication and commitment but ultimately herald many benefits to our body and our whole health.

Benefits of the Diet

The basis of many of these benefits is a marriage of personal/political activism and personal therapy and health conscious rebalancing.


The original basis of the “Pythagorean Diet” upon which our modern vegetarian diets are based stem from ethical and moral viewpoints as popular then as they are now. By their definition, animal products derived from killing (Eg. Meat) were off limits but allowing such products that were harvested gently and naturally from animals such as unfertilized eggs and milk. The key to this was a lack of violence, through raising the animals well and treating them fairly.

Additionally, it was felt by adherents of this diet that humans did not require meat as there was enough food for all. The logical principles behind this were: 1) a relationship or kinship between man and animal is sufficient to justify abstaining. 2) it's generally accepted that a diet “predominantly” vegetarian is healthier to one that is not. 3) for centuries this lifestyle has been preferred by those seeking meditative calmness within monasteries and monastic systems.


One of the reasons people get into vegetarian lifestyles in the ability to support a sustainable ecological and environmental structure. Ineffective and wasteful policies around food production, specifically meat production, has been argued to lead towards global food scarcity.

The meat industry is shifting with more and more insect farms popping up that take a minuscule amount of land and resources to produce protein at much higher ratios than red meat. Having said that, I think it will be many years before that becomes a popular way to eat in Canada.

Animal care and treatment

When “Animal Liberation” was published in 1975 it forever changed how the world talked about animal rights. The movements that followed were about reducing the suffering or minimizing the pain of animals capable of experiencing it. Most who enter vegetarian diet, for this reason, hold that this is no more worthy a discrimination that those based upon skin colour.

With equal value placed upon animal rights, closely related to but differing from human rights, a vegetarian or vegan diet is one of the best ways to live in balance.

Personal Body & Health


Being on a vegetarian diet is highly effective for increasing weight loss. Studies suggest that weight loss in vegetarians is not highly dependant on exercise and occurs naturally each week at the rate of 1 lb.


Studies done around diabetes suggest a 74% higher chance of developing diabetes for non-vegetarians over a 17 year period. Other studies also found similar data and it appears that a low-fat, plant-based diet may help to prevent and treat diabetes possibly through improving insulin sensitivity and/or decreasing insulin resistance.

Heart Disease

Through numerous studies, heart disease and mortality from heart disease causes were decreased through a vegetarian diet lifestyle.


By avoiding excessive consumption of red meat, several studies have documented a decrease in all-cause mortality and specifically cardiovascular mortality. Due to these reasons and many others, a low red meat intake has been associated with longevity.

Main Criticisms of Vegetarianism

While many inflammatory critics of vegetarianism exist, the primary causes of vegetarians nutrient deficiencies have been mostly caused with insufficient diet prep, as a varied ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet will help you to meet your needs, as a few regulatory government bodies have ceded.

Insufficient Protein

While this is a common fear that many people have when looking at a vegetarian diet, especially for those who work out, meeting your protein needs is not as hard as it sounds. As low processed soy foods like tofu and tempeh are around. There is also no ban on whey and pea protein options, so if you can't give up your morning smoothie - you don't have too.

Insufficient Iron

While unable to get the heme-iron from red meat, there are plenty of non-heme iron sources. Despite the low bioavailability of nonheme iron, you can increase your absorption of this crucial micronutrient by increasing your vitamin C.

Vitamin C

What do citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, melons and strawberries all have in common? That magical Vitamin C that increasing absorption of nonheme iron.

Insufficient Zinc

While zinc is an essential element for human health it is only needed in trace amounts. When making sure to get enough zinc, consider upping your intake of pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts and fortified oatmeals and cereals.

Insufficient Calcium

Vital in the maintenance of strong bones, it also plays a large role in muscular contractions. If you have experience mid-workout cramping with a drop in performance and ability you may have run into this. Consider switching to a lacto-vegetarian style or add spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli and almonds to your diet. Consider supplementation if you’re finding the low amounts you’re getting from these sources isn’t helping.

Insufficient B12

Deficiencies of Vitamin B12 can turn into serious complications like irreversible nerve damage if not rapidly looked after. Vegetarians must seek supplementation or strong B12 sources to mend this hole in their diets.

Thyroid Sufferers

A note for those that suffer from thyroid disease or struggle balancing their thyroid. Care must be given to what vegetables you are cooking with since soy, raw cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes and corn will have goitrogens.

Is this Diet Long Term or Short Term?

The long-term health of vegetarians looks good. Multiple studies have been done to seek the answers and it has become apparent that the key to leading a plant-based lifestyle is the dedication and health-based meal planning that is often the missing piece for most vegetarians suffering from the above issues.

The major benefits, including the possibility to limit chronic conditions, reduce weight and mortality rates, often blind people to the very active role they must take in their own health. There is no all-or-nothing cookie cutter way, but rather a lifestyle that can be tailored to each individual. Indeed it's a lifestyle that can greatly benefit sufferers of Type 2 Diabetes, and heart-related diseases, but these benefits can only be quantified through the hard work of the dieter to meet those crucial nutrient deficiencies.

History of the Diet

The “Vegetarian Diet” has come and gone through many iterations since its original conception, but the earliest we can place an actual recorded movement or system is sometime within 100 years before 495 BC. Why so long ago? Well that was when Pythagoras lived.

Ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, taking time aside from breaking new ground in maths and geometry also devised what came to be considered the very first system of Vegetarianism. At the time this diet was followed only by his disciples so it was referred to as the “Pythagorean diet”.

While it’s certain that humans had eaten meatless diets long before Pythagoras, it’s usually only due to that being the food that was available in the ancient farming cultures.

One of the core reasons Pythagoras had devised such a system was his religion or belief. Due to his belief that all living beings had souls meat, fish and strangely the humble bean was not included at his table. The bean was removed because he thought that beans and people were made of the same cosmic material. Shortly after his death, beans were elevated to the plate by his followers.

Pythagoras’s life has influenced much of the culture of the world to this day, and no less so when in 1847 a group of like-minded individuals created the Vegetarian Society in England. Pythagoras’s life linked the virtues of temperance, self-control and abstinence to vegetarian ideal, which left contemptible drunkenness, lust and hooliganism sins to the meat eaters.

During the 1960s vegetarianism was transplanted into American mainstream life and the movement gained so much traction that in the 1970s a book was published called “Diet for a Small Planet”. This book elevated the vegetarian ideals past ethical and moral reasons and into environmental and ecological spheres making it a global concern.

Still later, in 1975, Peter Singer’s work “Animal Liberation” vilified meat diets over animal rights and treatment issues, again raising this grounded diet into the forefront of our culture.

Today, just as they have since 495 BC, people are practising vegetarianism for a kaleidoscope of reasons, from moral and ethical, past ecological and environmental and through animal right and treatment causes. What are you interested in it for?

If you want to give this a try, visit our Meals page to check out our daily catered diet options. We always provide a tasty and nutritious vegetarian option! Should you want to try something different we always are able to fit your request through our Custom Meals page.

About the Author

With over 10 years of providing detailed articles with a strong SEO background in the online market, Addison Jackel has sharpened his experience with his passion for Health and Nutrition. Providing A - Z content management, his editorial expertise has driven social conversations and created communities centred on his clients’ core values. In over a decade of elevating engagement to accomplish his partners’ social media communication goals, Addison Jackel has developed his services as a distinguished writer and editor. His articles balance high fidelity research with a creative and personal approach to readership engagement.