The vegan diet has gained popularity over the years, but not everyone chooses it for the same reason. So, what exactly is a vegan diet and what are other forms of vegetarianism?


"Go Green!" This has become a popular phrase over the last few years. In the world of food and nutrition many people are going green by eliminating meat from their diets. It isn't uncommon to hear someone reveal they are vegetarian. Many forms of vegetarianism exist. If you happen to be cooking for a vegetarian, you may want to ask what type they are.


Vegans avoid all animal products. They don't eat eggs, dairy products, or even honey.

Fruitarians eat only fruits, seeds, nuts, and other plant components that can be gathered without harming the plant.

Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products, but not eggs. They may or may not avoid non-dietary use of animal products.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products. This is the most common group of vegetarians and what most people think of when someone says they're "a vegetarian."

Pesce-vegetarians include fish in their diet.

Pollo-vegetarians eat fowl, such as chicken and turkey, but avoid red meat and pork.

Flexitarians mainly eat vegetarian food, but will occasionally make exceptions.

The vegan diet has gained popularity over the years. Some believe it is a healthier eating pattern. Others have concerns about the environment, including the raising of livestock, or use of chemicals and antibiotics in meat production. Many choose veganism for religious reasons or because they object to the raising of animals for human consumption.

Vegans rely on fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains (breads, cereals, rice, and egg-free pasta), nuts, seeds, and soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh. Thanks to an increasing availability of soy products in mainstream markets, vegans can have a great deal of variety in their diet without using animal foods. However, a commitment to reading food labels and planning meals is necessary to stay healthy.

All vegetarian diets, especially the vegan diet, have health advantages, which include lower dietary intakes of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein and higher intakes of fiber and several nutrients, including vitamins A and C. A vegetarian diet is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI), decreased incidence of ischemic heart disease, lower blood pressure, and lower cancer rates than a non-vegan diet containing meat. Several major health agencies, including the American Institute for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association, recommend a heavily plant-based diet.

Following a vegan diet is more complicated than just avoiding meat and eating fruits, vegetables, and grains. To maintain good health, vegans must meet their nutritional needs with careful planning. Studies show that some vegans have lower intake of nutrients that are high in meats or dairy foods, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Protein is one key nutrient for vegans. Meats, eggs, and dairy products are high in protein. However, plant foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products, including tofu, tempeh, and soy milk, also are excellent sources of protein. Including plentiful amounts of these foods in the diet each day will meet protein needs.

Individuals who do not use dairy foods can meet their calcium needs by using vegetable foods such as nuts, dark-green leafy vegetables, and beans. Some vegans may find it easier to use calcium-fortified foods, such as fortified juices, cereal, or soy milk products. Vegans may need to take vitamin supplements, depending on their food intake and stage in the life cycle. A registered dietitian can help make sure the vegan diet is meeting their needs.

LaDale Walker, RD, LDN, of Middletown Family Wellness and Counseling is a registered dietician and licensed nutritionist. She can be reached at (302) 449-4166 or