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The Four Types of Vegetarian Diets Explained

Vegan Foods

How to understand the different options

Dr. Kristie Leong

If you’re considering giving up meat, you may be confused by the different types of vegetarian diets available to you. Vegetarian diets range from the super restrictive vegan style of vegetarianism to the more liberal flexitarian diet which incorporates limited amounts of meat. Here’s how to understand the different options available to you when you choose to go vegetarian.

The Vegan Diet

This is the most restrictive type of vegetarian diet. Vegans not only eliminate all animal-based foods but avoid dairy products of all types as well as eggs. While generally considered to be a healthy diet in terms of preventing disease, it takes planning to get enough protein, iron, and calcium on a vegan diet, although it’s not impossible. Many people start out with less restrictive form of vegetarianism and gradually progress to a vegan diet over time. 


People who adopt a lacto-vegetarian diet abstain from all meat products, including eggs, but continue to eat dairy products. The advantage to this form of vegetarianism is you’re less likely to develop a calcium deficiency due to the inclusion of calcium-rich milk products.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarianism (Ovo-Lacto Semi Vegetarian)

Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid all meat but allow themselves to eat both dairy products and eggs. The inclusion of eggs and milk makes it easier to maintain calcium and protein levels and is, in general, an easier form of vegetarianism to adapt to, particularly if you eat out a great deal. Have you ever stopped to consider how many baked goods contain eggs and dairy products?

Foods included as part of the pescatarian diet


One of the least restrictive forms of vegetarianism is the pescatarian lifestyle where you avoid all meat products with the exception of fish. Many people don’t consider pescatarians to be true vegetarians since they allow themselves to eat seafood. They also consume dairy products and eggs.


Flexitarian is a relatively new term for a type of ( on and off ) vegetarian who eats a basic lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with the addition of meat products on occasion. This group of vegetarians is sometimes criticized for their lack of commitment to the vegetarian cause. Some flexitarians use this more flexible form of vegetarianism to test the waters and eventually transition over to more restrictive types of vegetarianism. 

Which type of vegetarian diet is right for you? It can be easier to transition to a vegetarian diet slowly by starting out as a flexitarian and gradually reducing meat consumption over time. Some people start by eliminating red meat and pork, followed by poultry, and fish as they become more accustomed to less meat in their diet. You may or may not choose to eliminate dairy and eggs to become a full vegan. Some vegans even take it a step further by becoming raw vegans, meaning they consume no food that’s been cooked or heated.

The good news is there are lots of options when it comes to choosing a vegetarian diet. Spend some time and explore the different possibilities before making your decision. Most of these options are healthier than the traditional American diet when it comes to preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. 

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2009-2022. First published in January 2009, latest revision in August 2022. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.