Lecture 3: Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians and Other Non-Vegans

Required: Simply Vegan, page 2
Recommended: review the breakfast and entrée recipes in Simply Vegan

By the end of this lecture, the student will be able to:
1. Define "lacto-ovo" vegetarianism
2. Explain the nutritional concerns of vegetarians
3. Explain a healthy eating pattern for vegetarians

First Things First

The next several lectures will discuss the various ways in which vegetarians have been categorized. Just as there are no culinary police that dictate how people eat or how food is prepared, there are no vegetarian police who oversee if people are adhering to their "declared" vegetarian choice.

This is a very hot topic for some people, who are adamant that their definitions or life-style choices are the ONLY way. For the sake of these lectures, it will be easier for those people in the audience with very strong feelings to park their dogma by the door. Remember, the information in the lectures is meant to edify and open new doors, not dictate a way of life.

Here are some examples (and I want everyone to remain calm) which will probably be even more understandable after you've read the rest of this lecture. Pescans and fruitarians are at the opposite ends of the vegetarian lifestyle. Pescans usually eat fish and shellfish, excluding all other meats and meat products from their diet, but may consider themselves vegetarian. Many types of vegetarians consider this hypocrisy and taking the easy way out. You just need to understand the term, so when you are catering a banquet for 200 or when you are selecting a new cookbook, and the term "pescan" jumps out at you, you'll know what to expect. Fruitarians are vegans who also avoid eating anything that would kill a whole, living plant in the process (more about that later). In other words, it would be acceptable to include apples or grapes on a fruitarian menu, as the tree and the vine would continue to live, but not onions or garlic (as you would consume the plant in its entirety). You gotta be informed.

So, With That Said
Let's launch into more understanding of vegetarians and their nutritional interests and concerns. This lecture will focus on the term "vegetarian," with ensuing lectures speaking on vegans, fruitarians, raw foodists, and pescans (with a little macrobiotic, organic, and natural foods topics thrown in). Last warning: you may not completely agree with all the information or the way it is conveyed. That's understandable- just be moderate and understanding that there's room for all thoughts in the universe.

Consider the word "vegetarian." It has several meanings. "Vegetarian" can be the umbrella term for all people who exclude some or all animal products from their diet (as in vegans, fruitarians, etc.). It is also the term used by people who used to be categorized as "lacto-ovo" vegetarians.

Let's clarify that. "Lacto" means dairy and "ovo" means eggs. Lacto-ovo vegetarians exclude animals from their diet, but include animal products, such as cheese, sour cream, and yogurt made from cow, goat, or any other kind of animal milk. For many years, when people were asked what type of vegetarian they were, they would respond "lacto-ovo."

In the past several years, the "lacto-ovo" has been dropped and vegetarians-formerly-known-as-lacto-ovo are now known simply as "vegetarians."

To reiterate, a "vegetarian" can be a lacto-ovo vegetarian or can be one of any type of vegetarian. Depending on the situation, it is important to clarify. When I am asked to write a "vegetarian menu," for a group of people with whom I am unfamiliar, I need to ask, "Will we be including or excluding dairy?" Their answer will tell me how to proceed.

Protein Pairing-- Not
Here's a bit of protein biochemistry you'll need to understand vegetarian nutrition. Don't worry, it's cruelty free! I apologize to the science majors out there - this is simplified stuff!

Proteins are important for growth and maintenance of skin, muscle, tissues and organs, for a healthy immune and circulatory system, etc. All proteins are a collection of amino acids or, in other words, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are essential and nonessential amino acids. "Essential" means your body needs them but can't manufacture them by itself. So, essential amino acids must be brought into the body. The easiest way to do this is to eat them!

To clarify "essential" a bit more: you know that you need Vitamin A. But you don't need to eat Vitamin A. You can eat foods that contain Vitamin A's precursor, beta-carotene (found in red and orange fruits and veggies, such as carrots, mangoes, apricots, sweet potatoes, etc.). Your body is able to take the beta-carotene, combine it with other ingredients and produce Vitamin A. Your body can't do the same thing with essential amino acids. It has to have them wholly formed.

By the way, nonessential amino acids have functions in the body, such as being a helper in some bodily reactions, being parts of vitamins, etc., but they are not as crucial as the essential.

Omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians (we'll call them "vegetarians" from now on) have never been concerned about including essential amino acids in their diets. All animal proteins contain all the essential amino acids. So, if you are eating animal protein, you are eating all the essential amino acids. Dairy products and eggs, eaten by vegetarians, contain all the essential amino acids.

It is obviously possible to have all your essential amino acids from non-animal sources, as well. Why do we say obviously? Look at all the generations of vegans in the world. Without essential amino acids, you cannot grow and live, nonetheless reproduce!

Grains, beans, legumes and soy have lots of essential amino acids. They just don't have all of them in one food. For that reason, it used to be thought that vegans, who do not eat animal protein, had to consciously "pair" or "combine" proteins. This is what vegans used to be told:

You must combine different food groups in order to obtain "complete" protein, that is protein that has all the essential amino acids. One group of foods, including grains, from food such as hot and cold cereals, bread, pasta and rice has some of the essential amino acids. Another group of foods, including nuts, dried beans and legumes, such as soy and soy foods, walnuts, split peas, lentils and kidney beans contain the remaining essential amino acids. If you "combine" foods from each group, you will be getting all the essential amino acids. So, a peanut butter sandwich, a pasta salad with kidney beans or lentil soup with rice would be examples of "paired" or "combined" proteins, which have all the essential amino acids.

Nowadays we don't use the "one from Column A, one from Column B" approach. We emphasize that everyone, omnivores, vegans, fruitarians, and everyone in between, must eat a balanced, varied diet. If you plan your daily intake and eat from all the food groups, you will get the vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids you need. If you exist on only two or three different types of food, then you'll not get much of anything you need. Variety is not only the spice of life, it is the essential of life!

To repeat, vegetarians (the lacto-ovo variety, remember?) were never told to protein-pair, as they include animal products in their diet and animal products contain essential amino acids.

Milk and Eggs
Any type of vegetarian will choose vegetarianism for any number of reasons. We have heard of health reasons, religious reasons, ethical reasons, environmental reasons, "it's the way I was brought up and I'm used to it" reasons, and economic reasons, to name a few. Some people have been and will remain vegetarian their entire lives, some are vegetarian for long periods of time, returning after brief "omnivore" sojourns, and some people are "semi-vegetarian," coming and going in the vegetarian lifestyle.

Please remember that there are all different levels of each type of vegetarian. Some lacto-ovo vegetarians may eat dairy and eggs, but not wear leather or use animal-tested products. Some lacto-ovo vegetarians may only eat dairy, some may only eat eggs. Some vegetarians may exclude leather or animal-testing from their lives, but attend a horse race. Everyone does what they think is right.

It is not unusual to have "mixed" vegetarian homes. One resident or family member may be lacto-ovo and another vegan. We know of one family where the mother is a long time vegan and raised her five children (ages 2-15) vegan. The father is lacto-ovo, but eats vegan at home, the 15 year old was briefly omnivore and returned to vegan and all the younger children are vegan.

You should be ready for this if you are going to offer vegetarian food services. You will have to decide if you will offer only vegetarian (lacto-ovo), only vegan or a combination of the two. When you get culinary-skillful, you can offer exclusively vegan (if you like) and no one will feel deprived.

Lacto-Ovo, We Mean Vegetarian, Menus, and Recipes

So, you won't be offering meat, fish, animal fat or any foods where animals were killed to obtain them if you are offering vegetarian menus. However, you will be offering eggs and dairy. We'll discuss the sugar issue (which is a vegetarian concern) and the enzyme issue (such as rennet, which is used in cheese making) in Lecture 4. Menus are easily adaptable for lacto-ovo. Four cheese lasagna, ravioli or tortellini, pastas with cream or cheese sauces, pizzas with cheese and other toppings, macaroni and cheese, cream soups, quiche, frittatas, omelets and egg salads, baked potatoes topped with sour cream and vegetables with hollandaise sauce are all examples of vegetarian items. Commercially prepared mayonnaise and salad dressings, which may contain eggs, dairy, or cheese can be used. A breakfast menu could be a steamed vegetable omelet with a bagel and cream cheese, lunch could be a vegetable quiche and a cream of broccoli soup and dinner could be baked eggplant with a yogurt and tomato sauce. Desserts could include puddings, ice cream, custards and baked items topped with whipped cream or butter cream icing.

A Last Note On Lacto-Ovo
Much research has come out lately on the health deficits of consuming milk and dairy products. If you would like to read about this, you could do your own web search or library search. You could start with at, which is the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. As a group, they feel that excluding milk and dairy from the diet reduces health risks. Many other groups and individuals feel this way as well. We're certain that many of you reading this are opposed to the consumption of dairy products.

Remember that in this course, we want you to get a picture of the total vegetarian world. Read through all the lectures before you form opinions or send e-mails. We're not here to influence, but to inform.

As we said, there has been a lot of research on the deficits of dairy consumption. One thing is for sure, lacto-ovo vegetarians have to be careful about their consumption of saturated fats from animal products. Animal-derived saturated fat, or cholesterol, can be a factor in the promotion of hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. In addition, the consumption of large, consistent amounts of animal fats have been linked to the promotion of some cancers. Diabetics, who are already at a heightened risk of heart disease, must be concerned about their intake of cholesterol.

We've talked about lacto-ovo vegetarians. Let's go to Lecture 4 and talk about vegans. Be sure to get started on the reading for Lecture 4, there's more than usual.

Fast Guide to Vegetarians:

Here are some fast (but not thorough) definitions for quick reference:

Vegan: do not eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy products or eggs or any foods that contain these ingredients. Many do no use leather products, fur, wool, honey, or any products which have been animal tested.

Vegetarian: do not eat meat, fish or poultry, but do eat dairy products and eggs. Vegetarians may vary on their stance about leather, honey, etc.

Fruitarian: vegans who also exclude the eating of any product which would kill off the plant (such as a carrot, which is the whole plant).

Raw Foodist: vegans who do not allow their foods to be heated over 118 degrees (feeling that the nutritive components of food are inactivated at higher temperatures)

Pescan: a person who includes fish and seafood in their diet, but excludes all beef, poultry, or pork. May self-describe as vegetarian.

VRG Home | About VRG | Vegetarian Journal | Books | Vegetarian Nutrition
F.A.Q. | Subscribe to Journal | Game | Vegetarian Family | Nutshell | VRG-News
Recipes | Travel | What's New | Bulletin Board | Veg Kids | Search | Links

  The Vegetarian Resource Group Logo © 2001 The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-8343 Email:


Last Updated
January 10, 2001

Graphic design by Leeking Ink

The contents of this web site, as with all The Vegetarian Resource Group publications, is not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

All contents of these lectures are copyright Chef Nancy Berkoff and The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Web site questions or comments? Please email