Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Vegetarian diets

On call

Vegetarian diets

Q. Following the lead of our 12-year-old daughter, my wife has become a vegetarian. She says she's willing to continue serving meat and chicken, but I sense that she'd rather not. What can you tell me about the safety of a vegetarian diet?

A. Most people who choose vegetarian diets are motivated by their personal philosophies, ethical beliefs, or religious convictions. But health certainly is a factor, and if a vegetarian eating plan is constructed properly, it can be an asset to health.

Variations on a theme

Many people who eschew animal foods think of themselves as vegetarians. But some of these folks simply avoid red meat, while others eliminate all animal products, and many are in between. Here is a glossary of various vegetarian menus:

Vegan. Eats no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or honey.

Lacto vegetarian. Eats no meat, fish, poultry, or eggs but does eat dairy products.

Ovo vegetarian. Eats no meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products but does eat eggs.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Eats no meat, fish, or poultry but does eat dairy products and eggs.

Pescetarian (also called pesco vegetarian). Eats no meat or poultry but does eat fish.

Pollo vegetarian. Eats no meat or fish but does eat poultry.

Semi- (or partial) vegetarian. Avoids meat but eats fish and poultry.

Macrobiotic diet. Relies on eating brown rice and other whole grains, supplemented with vegetables, beans or bean products such as tofu, kelp and other sea vegetables, and typically a small amount of fish and a limited quantity of certain fruits. Avoids dairy products and processed or refined foods.

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