A vegetarian diet has many clear benefits. Vegetarians have lower average blood cholesterol and thus a reduced risk of coronary artery disease. They also tend to weigh less than non-vegetarians and are less often afflicted with digestive-system disorders such as constipation and diverticulosis. They have a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and gallstones.
Vegetarians have a lower risk of various cancers—notably of the colon, breast, and lung—than the average American. But, of course, a vegetarian diet by itself won’t cancel the effects of smoking, being sedentary, or other bad health habits.
While many people nowadays identify as "vegetarian," there are actually numerous variations on a vegetarian diet, ranging from veganism (plant-based foods only) to allowance of eggs, fish, and even a little poultry. Here's a guide to the types:
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat plant-based foods, dairy products, and eggs, and exclude meat, poultry, and fish.
- Lacto-vegetarians eat plant-based foods and dairy products, and exclude meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians eat plant-based foods and eggs, and exclude meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products.
- Pesco-vegetarians eat a vegetarian diet but also include fish.
- Semi-vegetarians may eat dairy products or eggs, as well as a little fish and chicken, and generally exclude meat; also called partial vegetarians.
- Vegans eat plant-based foods only, excluding all foods of animal origin; also called strict vegetarians.