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A vegetarian is someone living on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with or without the use of dairy products and eggs (preferably free-range).

A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products such as gelatine or animal fats.

Types of Vegetarian
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian . Eats both dairy products and eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
  • Lacto-vegetarian . Eats dairy products but not eggs.
  • Vegan. Does not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other animal product.
  • Fruitarian . A type of vegan diet where very few processed or cooked foods are eaten. Consists mainly of raw fruit, grains and nuts. Fruitarians believe only plant foods that can be harvested without killing the plant should be eaten.
  • Macrobiotic. A diet followed for spiritual and philosophical reasons. Aims to maintain a balance between foods seen as ying (positive) or yang (negative). The diet progresses through ten levels, becoming increasingly restrictive. Not all levels are vegetarian, though each level gradually eliminates animal products. The highest levels eliminate fruit and vegetables, eventually reaching the level of a brown rice diet.

Other terms can be used in describing various vegetarian diets, though their exact meaning can differ. The term strict vegetarian may refer to a vegan diet, though in other cases it may simply mean a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet. The terms common or broad vegetarian may be used to refer to lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Demi-vegetarian is a term sometimes used to describe persons who eat no or little meat but may eat fish. Persons consuming fish but no meat are sometimes called pescetarians.

Many foods contain ingredients derived from the slaughter of animals. Gelatine is made from animal ligaments, tendons, bones etc. which have been boiled in water. It is often found in confectionery, ice cream, and other dairy products. Animal fats refer to carcass fats and may be present in a wide range of foods, including biscuits, cakes, and margarines. Suet and lard are types of animal fats. Certain food additives (E numbers) may be derived from animal sources.

Cheese is generally made with rennet extracted from the stomach lining of slaughtered calves. Vegetarian cheese is made with rennet from a microbial source.

The Vegetarian Society has a separate Information Sheet, Stumbling Blocks, listing ingredients which may be unsuitable for vegetarians.

Many vegetarians that eat eggs will eat only free-range eggs. This is due to moral objections to the battery farming of hens. The Vegetarian Society only endorses products containing eggs if the eggs are certified as free-range.

A well balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients your body needs and there is much scientific evidence to indicate vegetarians may be healthier than meat-eaters.

A vegetarian diet is healthy because it is typically low in saturated and total fat, high in dietary fibre and complex carbohydrate, and high in protective minerals and vitamins present in fresh fruit and vegetables. See the Health and Nutrition Index

  • Cereals/grains - wheat (bread & pasta), oats, maize, barley, rye, rice, etc. Potatoes are a useful cereal alternative.
  • Pulses - kidney beans, baked beans, chick peas, lentils, etc.
  • Nuts & Seeds - almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Fruit & vegetables.
  • Dairy products or Soya products - tofu, tempeh, soya protein etc.
  • Vegetable oils and fats - margarine or butter.

Most people become vegetarian because they believe it is wrong to slaughter animals for food and because they are opposed to the cruelty and suffering inflicted upon the billions of animals reared for food. See the Information Sheets on Farm Animals for further details.

The effect of meat production on the environment, such as the destruction of vast areas of rainforest for cattle ranching, is another reason commonly cited for becoming vegetarian. Others may become vegetarian because of the links between meat production and poverty and famine in developing countries.

The health advantages of a vegetarian diet are another commonly cited reason to become vegetarian, particularly among adults. A dislike of the taste of meat and religious reasons may also be a factor.

For further details see the Information Sheets on Statistics and Going Vegetarian and the catalogue of Vegetarian Books with books on almost everything.