Vegetarian and Vegan: What’s the Difference?

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Are you or someone you know considering becoming a vegetarian or vegan? Are you aware of the differences between them? This topic can be confusing to even someone who has some education on this topic. The four different levels of vegetarianism are semi-vegetarian, lactovegetarian, ovo-lactovegetarian, and vegan. A few benefits of becoming a vegetarian are a decreased risk of heart disease, a decreased risk of obesity, increased energy, and a stronger immune system.

Vegan Lifestyle

Vegans do not eat any products that come from animals. These include meat, chicken, seafood, dairy, and eggs. Strict dieting and the need to pair and compliment proteins are vital for consuming the proper amount of nutrients. A person not eating meat or meat products can lose quite a few nutrients that our bodies use to keep it functioning properly.

Non-vegetarians can consume complete proteins through meat or meat products, but since vegans do not eat meat or meat products they have to make sure that they pair the right types of foods together to make complete proteins. Whole grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and legumes all contain essential and non-essential amino acids to make complete proteins.

Vegetarians are shown to absorb more calcium than non-vegetarians from plant sources. Plant sources of calcium include spinach, kale, broccoli, and some legumes and soybean products. There are no good sources of vitamin D from plants. If a person does not go outside and is a vegan, than he/she needs to have a good reliable source of vitamin D.

Although someone on a vegan diet can get iron through dried beans, spinach, and dried fruits, those are not good sources of heme iron, which is the form of iron found in meat. A person on a vegan diet might have to take an iron supplement or consume iron fortified foods such as: 100% iron fortified cereal, lentils, black eyes peas, spinach, and beans. Vitamin C helps the body with absorption and should be eaten with any source of iron, heme or non-heme, to insure absorption. Along with iron, vitamin B-12 and zinc are also important nutrients that vegans need to get within their diet or talk with a physician or dietitian about supplementing them.

Vegetarian Lifestyle

Semi-vegetarians, lactovegetarians, and ovo-lactovegetarians are all other forms of vegetarianism.

  • Semi-vegetarians have the least problems getting proper nutrients from the food they eat. They do not consume red meat, but do eat chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs.
  • Lactovegetarians consume mostly plant products, cheese, and other dairy products, but do not eat poultry,fish.
  • Ovo-lactovegetarians consume the same thing as lactovegetarians, but they include eggs in their diets.

As with vegans, consuming the proper nutrients from their food is important. If vegetarians are not consuming adequate amounts of nutrients, then supplementation might be something to discuss with a dietitian. Pairing foods together is not so much a problem for these vegetarians as it is for vegans. Take protein for example; since these types of vegetarians do eat animal products, there is no need to pair foods together to make complete proteins. Vitamin D and Iron are not issues because they are usually either fortified or already found in animal products naturally.

Tofu is an adequate source of protein used by vegetarians and vegans to replace meat products.

As you can see, it is not hard to become a vegetarian if one chooses to do so. No matter why someone becomes a vegetarian, it is important to fully understand the topic so that you do not jeopardize your nutritional health. There are plenty of resources available to help someone in becoming a vegetarian. This newsletter is to help you learn more about this subject. Other resources about Vegetarianism can be found at the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association. Good resources for vegetarian recipes are: and


Information from: American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, Vegetarian Times, National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Produced by Meals on Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County by Aaron Carter, nutrition intern for Sherry Simon, R.D/L.D. For questions regarding nutrition education contact: Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D., Director of Nutrition Services for Meals on Wheels Inc. of Tarrant County at 817-336-0912 or email: Website: October 2011 

Posted in Nutritional Education.

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