There are many reasons to cut meat out from your diet altogether, ranging from health reasons to support for the environment and animal welfare.
Vegetarianism is one way of achieving this. But could you go full vegan and cut out eggs and dairy products, such as cheese, and milk too?
We take a closer look at what it means to be vegetarian and vegan – and the key differences between the two.
What it means to follow a vegetarian diet
People the world over have followed a vegetarian diet since time immemorial.
But some people – especially those from cultures where meat makes up a big part of their diet – may still struggle with what being vegetarian entails.
For example, vegetarians today still encounter questions such as “do vegetarians eat eggs?” And “what do vegetarians eat?”
And the truth is, it is OK to be a little confused, as there is a flexible spectrum of what vegetarians will and will not eat, depending on each individual.
There are (more or less) five types of ‘vegetarian’, ranging from those who will eat fish (and even meat, occasionally) to those who will refuse dairy.1
Lacto-ovo vegetarian (the ‘classic’ vegetarian)
Eats no meat or fish, but dairy products (cheese, milk) and eggs are OK.
Eats no meat, fish or eggs, but dairy products, such as cheese and milk are OK.
Easts no meat or fish, dairy but eggs are OK.
Eats no meat, but fish, eggs and dairy products are OK.
Predominantly lacto-ovo vegetarian, but sometimes eats meat or fish.
From this list, it is easy to see that becoming a vegetarian is all about deciding what is important to you.
If it is predominantly about trying to cut down the amount of meat in your diet for health or environmental reasons, rather than strong ideas about animal welfare, perhaps flexitarianism or pescatarianism is the way to go.
On the other hand, if you feel strongly about chicken welfare, perhaps you would be a natural lactovegetarian.
And if you are worried about how to be vegetarian (or how to cook for one) on one of the biggest meat-fest days of the year, take a look at How to have the tastiest vegetarian Christmas dinner!
What it means to follow a vegan diet
So, then, what does it mean to be vegan - and what is a vegan diet?
In short, vegans cut out all animal products from their diet and lifestyle. This includes dairy products, but also honey, wax candles, and anything made of leather.
More than simple dietary choices, The Vegan Society defines veganism as a philosophy which extends to what medicines you take, what charities you support and what kind of leisure and entertainment facilities you go to.2
That might sound strict, but The Vegan Society points out that it is not about blaming or shaming.
“We all do the best we can and by making a conscious decision to being vegan… you have shown that you are already thinking differently about your choices,” the society writes.3
If you want to dig down into the differences of what is vegan vs vegetarian, compare the articles above with, What do vegans eat?, What can’t vegans eat? Five myths busted, and Everything you need to know about: Veganism on the Health Hub.
Vegetarian and vegan sources of protein and other nutritional questions
Vegan and vegetarian diets do raise some nutritional questions.
This is because meat and animal products have traditionally provided humans with many of our important nutrients, such as protein and iron.
But this is only a very small hurdle these days, when sources of vegetarian and vegan meat replacements are bountiful even in the smallest supermarkets (in the UK, anyway).
As well as protein-rich staples such as pulses, nuts and seeds, Holland and Barrett sells vegan protein powders and vegan supplements that are easy to incorporate in your diet.
Plus, the Health Hub has a wealth of articles on just these issues, such as The best sources of protein if you’re vegan, 5 best vegan snacks high in protein, 8 essential nutrients for Vegans and How to stay healthy on a vegan diet.
Becoming a vegan can feel like a big step. And there are some hurdles, including societal pressure (see, How to tackle the negativity of being a vegan on the Health Hub).
Nevertheless, there is tons of support out there. If you think you are ready to go vegan, or want to support someone in becoming a vegan, be sure to read What does ‘going vegan’ really mean?, Why go vegan? and How to become a vegan on the Health Hub.
Last updated: 8 March 2021