Bowl of Minestrone Soup with Pasta, Beans and Vegetables

The word vegetarian gets thrown around a lot lately that it feels like it has already become part of popular culture. However, there are so many so many types of the vegetarianism and so many reasons why people practice it that the mention of the word is no longer very meaningful.

Bowl of minestrone soup

A: I’m a vegetarian.
B: What type of vegetarian?
A: I eat vegetables most of the time. But wait, I also eat fish and eggs, and I also drink milk.
A: Hmm, I also eat a bit of meat when I really feel like it.

The term almost feels like a mere label. There are so many combinations of foods that are excluded from the diets of different types of vegetarians that the term tells us very little.

Let’s get to the bottom of this confusion and orient ourselves with the reasons behind vegetarianism and the extents to which people practice it.

Motivations Behind Vegetarianism

Let’s stop, for a minute, asking which foods a person cannot eat and look into the reasons behind the dietary restrictions.

  • Religion. Some vegetarians avoid or abstain from certain foods because of their religion. Hinduism, for example, emphasizes the principle of ahimsa or nonviolence, which extends to non-human life. While Hindus are not required to be vegetarians, they are encouraged to be so in order to avoid the karmic consequences of hurting animals for food.
  • Health. Others prefer or restrict themselves to vegetables and non-animal protein sources for health reasons. Animal meat generally contains more saturated fat and cholesterol than vegetable proteins, and this can cause increased risks of obesity and cardiovascular disease. These have also been linked with higher risks of colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in diet are often recommended for people at risk of these health issues.
  • Animal Rights. Of course, there is also the ethics of a non-vegetarian diet. A lot of vegetarians are motivated by their respect for animal rights, and find that killing of animals for food is unnecessary and unethical. There are a lot of variations of this type of vegetarianism. For example, some refrain from all animal meat and all products that are derived from animals, while some only from animal meat, and others specifically from animal meat produced in factory farms.

There are also the reasons of agricultural ethics in aggressive farming, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and scarcity of clean water, issues that could be improved when there is a lower demand for animal meat.

Different Types of Vegetarians

There are many types of vegetarianism, each of them guided by the ideologies and beliefs of the vegetarian or his health concerns.

All types of vegetarianism do not allow consumption of animal meat, but they differ in their stand against other products from animals and specific plant-based products. Here are some mainstream types:

  1. Vegans are total vegetarians, and are usually motivated by ethical reasons. They do not consume not only animal meat but also other animal-derived foods such as dairy, eggs, and honey. Some extend their restrictions to non-food products and do not use silk and leather.
  2. Ovo-vegetarian diets allow consumption of dairy.
  3. Lacto-vegetarian diets allow consumption of eggs.
  4. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism combines the exclusions of ovo-vegetarianism and lacto-vegetarianism. This allows dairy and eggs in the diet.

There are also some who practice semi-vegetarianism. Semi-vegetarianism technically is not vegetarianism as it involves consumption of some animal meat, but it is recognized in the vegetarian movement because it is usually either a transitional step to vegetarianism or a middleground between regular consumption of animal meat and vegetarianism.

  1. Pescetarian diets allow consumption of seafood, and usually also allow the exceptions of ovo-lacto-vegetarianism.
  2. Pollo-vegetarian diets allow consumption of poultry.
  3. Pollo-pescetarianism combines pescetarianism and pollo-vegetarianism. This allows both seafood and poultry in the diet.

There are also varieties of diets that focus on certain types of foods. For example, raw foods diets focus on whole grains and beans but usually may also include fish.

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