Vegetarian Diets: Can Vegetarians Eat Fish, Eggs, and Dairy?

Most humans were raised to be omnivores, feeding off both plants and meat. Others, however, choose to take the step towards eating a mostly or all plant diet either for health reasons or as a lifestyle choice. Vegans, for example, do not eat meat and animal products nor do they use anything made from animals. For vegetarians, however, the definition can be very different for many types of people. We explain the most common dietary questions for vegetarians.

What Are Vegetarians?

In its most general definition, vegetarians are people who do not eat meat or by-products that came from killing an animal. This means that they won’t eat meat, but they also won’t consume food like chicken or beef broth (because broth often requires boiling the bones of a chicken) or gelatin (because gelatin is made from animal skin, cartilage, horns, and bone).

People can choose to be vegetarians for many reasons. One is because some people choose to respect animal life by not eating meat. Organizations like PETA urge people to stop eating meat and animal products as they believe animals should not have to be slaughtered for our enjoyment. And in many religions, followers choose to go vegetarian in an attempt to avoid the violence of slaughtering animals, which they consider sacred. Another reason is for health reasons because their bodies require less protein and other nutrients found in meat and more of the nutrients in other food sources. Other reasons to go vegetarian include political and cultural beliefs, economics (meat is generally more expensive than vegetables), or simply a personal preference for a meat-free diet. As long as you are healthy and gaining all the nutrients you need to function, vegetarianism is a good diet option.

Vegetarianism vs. Veganism

People often confuse vegetarianism with veganism. While both terms overlap in the sense that people choose to stay away from meat, there are many differences between the two.

Vegetarianism is generally a diet choice, while veganism can be expanded into a way of life. Vegetarians do not eat meat and by-products that required animal slaughter, but that does not stop vegetarians from eating and using animal products that didn’t involve killing an animal. For example, some vegetarians will still eat dairy, eggs, and other foods that contain milk and eggs (e.g. cake, bread, yogurt) because cows and chickens did not die to create them. Because vegetarianism is limited to diet, vegetarians won’t mind wearing materials like wool, feathers, and fur – regardless of whether or not an animal was killed for it.

Veganism, on the other hand, is a lifestyle that involves the total rejection of anything made from animals. Like vegetarians, vegans do not eat meat or anything that is made from animal slaughter, but they will also refuse dairy and eggs even if, biologically, a cow or chicken did not die to produce this. Contrary to popular belief though, this is not limited to healthy fruits and vegetables, as it’s possible for vegans to find vegan-friendly junk food like Skittles and certain types of potato chips. They also take it a step further and refuse to use animal products in their lifestyle. This means refusing to wear leather shoes or buying bags made from snake or crocodile skin.

Types of Vegetarian Diets

Some vegans insist that a vegan diet is the only true vegetarian diet. However, many vegetarians claim that there are different variations of a vegetarian diet, which is why a person can still be a vegetarian without having to avoid eggs and milk.

Can Vegetarians Eat Dairy?

A vegetarian who eats dairy but not eggs is called a Lacto-vegetarian. Lacto-vegetarians drink animal-based milk and products made of and contain milk such as cheese, butter, cream, and more. This form of vegetarianism is popular in Eastern religions like Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism since these religions believe in non-violence. And since milk can be produced from animals without having to slaughter them, it does not go against their religious beliefs.

Can Vegetarians Eat Eggs?

Vegetarians who eat eggs but do not drink milk are called ovo-vegetarians. Some vegetarians choose to eat eggs but not milk because of the industrial practices in milk production. Many believe that milk factories keep cows pregnant in order for a cow to constantly produce milk. Others believe that taking a cow’s milk denies her calves their own mother’s milk.

Vegetarians that eat both eggs and dairy are called ovo-lacto vegetarians. These are the most common types of vegetarians. If they stop eating eggs and dairy, they become vegan.

Can Vegetarians Eat Fish?

Some people claim to be vegetarians but still eat fish. This is called a pescetarian diet. However, this is arguably not a vegetarian diet. Some groups of pescetarians and people who claim to be vegetarian but also eat poultry argue that they are still vegetarian because their definition of meat is limited to red meat. However, the act of eating poultry or fish involves killing animals, so these cannot be considered vegetarian diets.

Vegetarians differ from vegans in such a way that their choice to avoid animal meat and by-products is limited to their diet. Vegans choose to take it a step further by applying it to their whole lifestyle, though both veganism and vegetarianism overlap in many similarities.

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