Humanity's search for the healthiest and most sustainable diet continues unabated. The most common diet model lately is plant-based nutrition. While some people add plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grains to their eating habits to contribute to their health, it is an ethical problem for others. In this article, we cover all types of vegetarianism and explain it in detail.
Types of vegetarian diets
Vegetarianism encompasses a spectrum of dietary choices, each with its principles and restrictions. Here are some of the main types of vegetarian diets:
1. Flexitarian (or semivegetarian) diet
Flexitarians embrace a flexible approach to vegetarianism, allowing occasional consumption of meat or fish. This allows individuals to meet their nutritional needs from animal-derived protein sources. This type of vegetarianism is often chosen for health reasons for those who don't want to restrict themself too much or as a transitional step toward a fully plant-based diet.
Whole grains form the backbone of the diet, providing essential carbohydrates, fiber, and a range of nutrients. Consumption of various grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, and oats, ensures a diverse nutrient profile.
Veggies, as in each vegetarian diet, provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The colorful plates contribute to your overall health and well-being by providing bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols, carotenoids, or anthocyanins.
Health benefits of a well-planned flexitarian diet
A well-thought-out flexitarian diet can offer numerous health benefits:
Weight management. The emphasis on plant-based foods often leads to lower calorie intake, making weight management more achievable.
Nutrient density. Including a variety of plant foods ensures a rich supply of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, contributing to overall health.
Heart health. Reduced red and processed meat intake may improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Sustainability. Flexitarians contribute to environmentally-friendly and sustainable food choices by reducing meat consumption, aligning with broader ecological concerns.
Digestive health. The high-fiber content in plant-based foods supports digestive health and helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
2. Pescatarian diet
Pescatarians abstain from meat, including beef, pork, and poultry, but incorporate fish and seafood into their diet. This dietary choice is often made for health benefits associated with fish consumption and concerns about the environmental impact of meat production.
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout are rich sources of protein for muscle development and overall body function and omega-3 fatty acids, promoting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, and supporting brain function.
It is also easy to meet essential vitamins and minerals, including B12, iron, zinc, and selenium from fish and seafood. Complementing the diet with whole grains, legumes, and a variety of vegetables ensures a well-rounded nutrient intake.
Pescatarians can create delicious and nutritious dishes, such as:
- Grilled salmon served on a bed of mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and avocado, drizzled with olive oil and lemon.
- Quinoa bowl topped with seared tuna, cucumber, edamame, and a sesame soy dressing.
- Pasta with a mix of seafood, such as mussels, clams, shrimp and fish, and vegetables.
3. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet
Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism is a classic form of vegetarianism that excludes meat, fish, and poultry but includes dairy products and eggs. This dietary choice offers a wide range of plant-based foods while maintaining a rich source of protein and essential nutrients.
Many lacto-ovo-vegetarians choose this diet for ethical concerns related to animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Also, including eggs and dairy allows for diverse culinary options, making it easier for individuals to maintain a balanced and satisfying diet.
Balance with a lacto-ovo-vegetarian lifestyle
Achieving a balanced and sustainable diet plan in a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet is easy. Protein needs can be obtained from plant-based protein sources, such as legumes or nuts, eggs, and a variety of dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. The animal protein sources in this diet also provide an adequate supply of calcium, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12.
Consumption of whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, and oats), veggies, and fruits provides essential dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds.
You can also get additional protein, healthy fats, and micronutrients by incorporating nuts and seeds, like almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds.
All together, adopting a lacto-ovo-vegetarian lifestyle involves conscious planning to ensure a well-rounded diet.
4. Vegan diet
Adopting a vegan lifestyle involves a commitment to abstain from all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Incorporating vegan protein sources, such as tofu, tempeh, legumes, lentils, quinoa, and plant-based protein powders, is essential for meeting your nutritional needs.
Reading labels to identify hidden animal ingredients in processed foods is an important practice that you should gain over time while following a vegan diet. Cooking at home helps you to control ingredients and ensure a well-balanced and satisfying vegan diet.
Health benefits and nutritional considerations for vegans
A vegan lifestyle offers various health benefits, but it requires attention to nutritional considerations to ensure a well-rounded and balanced diet.
Plant-based diets often lead to weight loss or maintenance due to the lower calorie density of plant foods. There's also evidence suggesting a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and certain cancers among those following a vegan diet. Additionally, the fiber-rich nature of plant-based diets promotes digestive health.
However, there are nutritional considerations for those adopting a vegan lifestyle. Ensuring that you have sufficient protein intake is essential. You need to meet your calcium needs for bone health. Luckily, you can find fortified kinds of plant milk for calcium and vitamin D intake.
Iron is the mineral that you need to keep your eye on. A vegan person can be faced with iron deficiency, which has vital consequences for the human body due to the lack of oxygen flowing to the organs. You can try to increase your iron absorption by pairing iron-rich plant foods with vitamin C sources because plant-based foods help change iron into a form that our body can absorb better.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3 to compensate for the lack of seafood. You should pay attention to vitamin B12 through supplementation or fortified foods because it is impossible to meet your B12 needs by consuming only plant-based foods.
5. Raw vegan diet
The raw vegan lifestyle involves consuming uncooked and unprocessed plant-based foods, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. While it can offer various health benefits, navigating this dietary choice requires careful consideration and planning.
Everything that we mentioned for vegan nutrition is valid for a raw vegan diet, too. But there are some additional concerns:
Food safety. Due to the absence of cooking, raw vegan practitioners must pay extra attention to food safety, washing, and sanitizing to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Energy requirements. Meeting caloric needs on a raw vegan diet can be challenging because of the lack of cooking. The main energy sources are whole grains and legumes, which are foods that can not be consumed raw in general. That's why including sufficient amounts of nuts, seeds, avocados, and dried fruits can help maintain energy levels.
6. Macrobiotic diet
Developed in the 1920s by Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, the macrobiotic diet is a definition of simple and healthful dietary habits that enable individuals to live in harmony with nature.
The macrobiotic diet seeks to eliminate foods containing toxins. While many adhere to a strictly vegan regimen by excluding dairy and meats, some individuals incorporate small portions of organic fish and meat.
In addition to food choices, macrobiotics extend to lifestyle practices, such as mindful eating, regular physical activity, and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of mind, body, and the environment.
Embracing plant-based nutrition
There are subtypes of vegetarianism that embrace many different dietary patterns. Each may involve different health benefits and risks. However, the common feature of all vegetarianism is, of course, the emphasis on plant-based nutrition. This approach is the most useful tool in reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.
However, you need to eliminate deficiencies in macro and micronutrients, taking into account both personal needs and dietary restrictions. Before embarking on a new nutritional lifestyle, consult a professional to get personalized advice.
Plant-based nutrition, with its rich supply of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, is a beneficial dietary model for our health.
Completely or partially eliminating animal-derived foods from the diet may cause some nutritional deficiencies.
When adopting these diets, don't overlook seeking guidance from health professionals, consuming fortified foods, and considering vitamin/mineral supplements.
What are the differences between vegan vs. raw vegan diets?
The vegan diet excludes all animal products, emphasizing plant-based foods with cooking options. However, a raw vegan diet is exclusively plant-based, prioritizing raw and uncooked foods, potentially requiring careful nutrient planning and food safety considerations.
What are the differences between flexitarian vs. pescatarian?
Flexitarians predominantly consume plant-based but allow themselves to have an occasional intake of meat or animal products. Pescatarians, however, exclude all meat and poultry but fish and seafood. These dietary habits can be thought of as flexible vegetarian diets as they both include animal sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Are there any health concerns for vegetarian diets?
Although vegetarian diets are generally healthy and natural diets rich in macro and micronutrients, some nutrients specific to animal-based foods may be deficient. For these needs, you should take the necessary supplements by consulting your doctor.
- Nutrients. Do vegetarian diets provide adequate nutrient intake during complementary feeding? A systematic review.
- European Heart Journal. Vegetarian and vegan diets: benefits and drawbacks.
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies.
- Cancer Research UK. Macrobiotic diet and cancer.