Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat-atarian…What does it all mean?

This photo of a billboard in Lincoln was my inspiration behind this post:

Billboard targeting kids and going vegan.

I try not to condone people’s decisions, but I do think that people make decisions on what is “popular” or what some celebrity is endorsing. I am a self-admitted meat-atarian (lover of all things meat). But I understand people choose not to eat, or decrease meat consumption for health reasons, personal beliefs (moral/ethical), religious affiliation, environmental concerns, financial limitations, etc.

So it made me think that perhaps vegan is a term that people may use interchangeably with vegetarian (and there are many variations of a vegetarian), and not fully understand there is a big difference between all of the terms. So let me clear up the mud for you!

A vegan is someone that DOES NOT use animals for anything. Obviously no meat, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, or anything containing gelatin (gelatin is extracted from animal collagen – from the skin and bones) – it is most commonly found in anything jelly (jelly worms or bears), jello, marshmallows, pill capsules, soaps, etc. Vegans may also abstain from the use of leather, silk, fur, wool, honey, yeast, and/or cosmetics. Fruitarians are a sub-group of vegans who further restrict their food intake to fruits, nuts, and seeds (or anything that doesn’t kill the plant). Vegans can be very extreme in their beliefs.  Vegans commonly believe that animals should not be used for science, entertainment, or companionship (even as seeing-eye dogs). From the research I did on these terms, veganism is more about the moral code, or living a cruelty-free lifestyle. They believe it to be morally wrong to use an animal to benefit human life. Additionally, they also strongly believe that ALL production agriculture should be abolished.

Vegetarians DO NOT consume meat, including fish and/or poultry. Their diet consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, grains, and nuts. They may/may not wear leather, wool, or silk. There can be several variations to the vegetarian diet:
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians – omit meat, poultry, and fish (milk (lacto) and eggs (ovo) can be consumed) – indicated to be the most common vegetarian diet.
  • Lacto-vegetarians – omit meat, poultry, fish, and eggs (milk can be consumed).
  • Ovo-vegetarians – omit meat, poultry, fish, and milk (eggs can be consumed).
  • Pesce-vegetarians (I also found this spelled pesca and pesco – I am unsure which is correct, maybe all?) – omit meat and poultry (fish, eggs, and milk can be consumed). Interestingly, fish are not considered meat since they are cold blooded. Traditional vegetarians consider all living animals (from either land or sea) to be meat.
  • Semi-vegetarian/Pseudo vegetarian – eats less meat than the average person; or one who claims to be vegetarian, but does have meat occasionally.
  • Flexitarian – maintains a mostly vegetarian diet, but occasionally makes exceptions for meat or fish.

About 3% of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, while 8% indicate they do not eat meat (most commonly for health reasons).

If a vegan or vegetarian diets is for you, be conscious of the foods you are consuming to ensure you are receiving proper nutrition. Some deficiencies in an animal protein devoid diet may include:

  • Calcium – vegetarian sources include dairy products; vegan sources include dark leafy greens, tofu, calcium fortified orange juice, and soy milk.
  • Protein – vegetarian sources include eggs; vegan sources include beans, lentils, nuts, legumes, soy beans, and tofu.
  • Iron –dark leafy greens, legumes, fortified cereals and breads, tofu, and tempeh (cultured soybeans with a chewy texture).
  • Calcium – vegetarian sources include dairy products; vegan sources include dark leafy greens and tofu.
  • Vitamin B12 – vegetarian sources include dairy products, eggs; vegan sources include Red Star nutritional yeast, and B12 fortified products such as soy milk and meat substitutes.

For those of us who do enjoy meat, remember that meat is high in zinc, iron, protein, and B12. It is versatile and tastes great too!!

Before you jump on a bandwagon or make a drastic lifestyle change, it is important to do your research on the pros and cons and to talk to your health care provider.


Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

– Website (
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