The Five Degrees of Vegetarianism

By Margaret Bador, Diets in Review

There are many reasons to want to cut down on your meat consumption. Different experts will argue that eating less meat not only benefits your health, but is also better for the environment by decreasing your carbon footprint and your water footprint. Many people chose to forgo meat because they don’t believe in killing animals for food, others do it as a protest against factory farms. Considering the numerous reasons why people become vegetarian, it’s no surprise that there are many different levels of abstaining from meat and/or other animal products. Below is an outline of the most common categories of what might loosely be called “vegetarian,” from the most inclusive to least.


The word “flexitarian” is fairly new. It refers to someone who leads a semi-vegetarian lifestyle, consuming mostly plants, dairy and eggs, but on occasion also eats meat and fish. Some flexitarians choose to only eat meat that they feel is ethically sourced, such as animals that are raised free-range and fed organic food. Other flexitarians will eat meat when it is served to them or for social reasons, but choose to not to buy meat or other dairy products.


Another fairly new term, a pescetarian is someone who eats seafood, but not any other meats. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term joins the Italian word “pesce,” which means fish, with our English “vegetarian.”

Many choose pescetarianism as a kind of middle ground between eating a typical Western diet and a diet that excludes all meats. It has particularly appeal to those who find it challenging to obtain enough protein from a strictly vegetarian diet. Seafood, including shellfish, is a good source of protein, healthy fats and essential minerals. Some macrobiotic diets may be considered pescetarian, because they are entirely plant-based, with the exception of some fish.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian

This is probably the most common form of vegetarianism, and usually what people mean when they describe themselves as vegetarian. Most Americans do not consider people in the two categories above to be true vegetarians. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, but will eat other animal products, specifically eggs and dairy. “Lacto” comes from the Latin term for milk, and “ovo” from the Latin word for egg. This usually also includes cheese, yogurt and honey.

There are also ovo-vegetarians, who abstain from meat and milk, but will eat eggs.


A vegan diet is entirely plant-based and contains no animal products, like eggs and dairy. Some also do not eat honey or gelatin. Vegans typically eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, beans and wheat. Many vegans also do not use animal products in other parts of their lives, and do not purchase products make with leather or fur. Some vegans avoid purchasing goods that are manufactured with carmine, casein, beeswax, shellac or tallow.

Because vegan diets are fairly restrictive, it is important for vegans to have a good understanding of nutrition. Those who are considering veganism or are new to it should do some research to make sure they’re eating foods that contain the right portion of daily recommended nutrients.

Raw Vegan

Not all “raw foodies” are vegans, but many choose to abstain from any animal products. A raw food diet has no foods that are cooked above a certain temperature, and also excludes all pre-processed foods. A raw vegan diet is very low in fat and calories and is very high in fiber, so many people on this diet turn to juicing at home. Juicing allows them to consume food that is densely nutritious and uncooked, and helps them get enough calories for the day. Many raw vegans consider the use of dehydrators to be an acceptable means of preparing foods.

Becoming a raw vegan is a big commitment. It takes careful planning to make sure that there’s enough fat, protein and calories in your food each day.

Are you a vegetarian? Why type do you identify with? Is there a style that we might have overlooked?

4 Popular Diet Plans That Can be Vegetarian
Food Safety Tips for Freegans
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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Val M.
Val M3 years ago


Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

It's up to individual need and choice

Helen Wu
Helen Wu4 years ago

woah ok thanks :)

Michelle Gershon
Michelle Gershon5 years ago

I am vegan, but I think you described some of the other levels incorrectly/unfairly. Vegans are not the only ones to abstain from leather/fur/silk/gelatin/carmine etc... I stopped consuming leather and fur long before I stopped eating dairy and eggs.

J.L. A.
j A5 years ago

nice to have distinctions defined

Dotti Lydon
Dotti L5 years ago

Never heard the term Flexitarian, but that is what I am.

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

Thanks for the post.

Ra Sc
Ra Sc5 years ago

It's really hard to consume enough calories while being raw vegan. Cooking tends to make the calories in food more accessible. But calorie counts don't account for this difference. Your body doesn't actually get 100% of the nutrition out of the things you eat. It's also part of why both raw tomatoes and cooked tomatoes are good for you, but good for you in different ways. Cooking tomatoes allows your body to access different nutrients from them. I'm not saying you can't survive as a raw vegan, but that it is very, very difficult and you need to put a lot of time and effort into making sure you are eating sufficiently.