The Distinction between Vegetarians and Vegans

Vegan sign illustrationTo someone who is not a vegetarian and has little interest in becoming one it may seem like a trivial difference. Some people may think that if you do not eat meat then you are a vegetarian and it is all the same. However, to those involved in this practice there is a strong passion about what they do and why they do it.

The differences exist: Vegetarian is a general term describing a person who does not consume meat, poultry, fish, or seafood. This grouping includes vegans and other sub-categories of vegetarian. However, it generally implies someone who has less dietary restrictions than a vegan.

The differences explained: Let’s look at some of the differences and what that involves.

Semi-vegetarian: One who is a vegetarian who consumes dairy products, eggs, chicken, and fish, but does not eat other animal flesh.

Ovo-lacto-vegetarian: They do not consume meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, but do consume eggs and milk. This is the largest group of Vegetarians.

Ovo-vegetarian: They would be a vegan if they did not consume eggs.

Lacto-Vegetarian: They would be a vegan if they did not consume milk.

Vegan: This is the strictest sub-category of vegetarians. Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. Some will not eat honey and yeast or wear any clothing made from animal products.

The deficiencies examined: Depending on what type of vegetarian a person is will determine the nutrients they need to replace. Here are a few suggested supplements:

B12: Responsible for red blood cell growth and nervous system maintenance. Since meat, dairy and eggs, are rich sources of B12, some vegetarians and especially vegans are often deficient. A lack of B-12 can put you at risk for macrocytic anemia, a type of abnormality in red blood cell development. Other issues that can develop are shortness of breath, heart palpitations, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, memory loss, dizziness, mood changes, loss of vision and irreversible nerve damage. I would suggest a good multivitamin to get the B-12 you need.

Vitamin D: Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, but cloud cover, long winters, indoor jobs, and the widespread use of sunscreen can often cause us to be deficient. There are a few food sources such as egg yolks and milk, which are often avoided by vegetarians and vegans. You should get at least 800 IU’s daily.

Calcium: Is important for bone and overall health, but many people don’t consume enough. It is suggested you get at least 1,000 mg per day.

Iron: Serves as an essential part of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood from your lungs to every body cell. Iron comes in two forms: heme, (better absorbed), and non-heme, (less absorbed). According to the Institutes of Medicine and The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), 40% of the iron found in meat, poultry and fish is heme, while the other 60% is non-heme. All plant-based sources of iron are non-heme.

Zinc: Is crucial for metabolism, immunity and healing. Meat, seafood and animal products are high in zinc, and zinc found in plant foods has a lower absorption level.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: An anti-inflammatory decreasing the risk for heart disease, lowering blood pressure, and lessens the joint pain of arthritis. With fatty fish as a major source it makes it difficult for vegetarian’s to get enough without supplements.


Choosing the right lifestyle is an important decision based on what your beliefs and preferences are. You need to make sure that you get the proper nutrients and don’t hurt your overall health. Keep smiling and enjoy your supper.

By Kurt LaCapruccia, DR Vitamin Solutions