Vegan, Vegetarian, Macrobiotic ... What's the Difference?

So, you’re vegetarian and you don’t eat eggs,but your brother’s a vegetarian and he eats fish. And your best friend, she doesn’t even drink milk, but your neighbor calls herself vegetarian, even though you saw her eat chicken the other day. What’s going on? The truth is, being a vegetarian can mean lots of different things. Everyone has a different definition of what they do and don’t want to eat. Fortunately, if you want to be more specific, there are a number of useful terms. Let’s break it down.


This is a general term. About 5 percent of the current U.S. population considers themselves to be vegetarian, although a number of varying dietary habits fall into this category. Usually this term refers to someone who doesn’t eat any kind of meat, including beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and seafood. However, there are many people who don’t quite match this description, but still use this label. These include …


This is someone who follows a mostly vegetarian diet but is known to eat the occasional McChicken sandwich or nibble at some turkey jerky. In reality, birds are meat, so this isn’t really a form of vegetarianism, but lots of people who call themselves vegetarians do indulge in a bit of chicken every so often.


Again, this is someone who follows a mostly vegetarian diet but who does eat a little meat—in this case, seafood. For some reason, lots of people don’t seem to count aquatic creatures as animals. This is often for health reasons: fish is a healthier choice than pork or beef, for instance. Other people choose to eat fish because it doesn’t affect land use as much as raising livestock does. However, overharvesting and polluting our seas and lakes is a significant environmental concern. Nonetheless, this is a popular diet, although, like pollo-vegetarianism, it’s not technically vegetarian.


This person eats no meat, including seafood, but does eat dairy products and eggs. Most lacto-ovo-vegetarians follow this basic rule: if you have to kill the animal to get the product, then don’t eat it. Therefore, milk is okay, but gelatin, which is made from horse hooves, is not.


This person eats no meat or eggs but does eat dairy products. Dairy products include cows’ milk and any food you can make from cows’ milk, such as ice cream, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, butter, and so on. Other animal products, such as goat cheese, are also included.


A person on this diet eats no meat and no dairy products but does eat eggs. This isn’t too common. (The lives of hens that provide table eggs are at least as miserable as chickens raised for meat, and eggs are no healthier in our diets than meat, so it’s little wonder there are few ovo-vegetarians.)


About 1 percent of the U.S. population follows a vegan (pronounced “VEE-gun”) diet. This excludes all meat, eggs, and dairy products, and usually any other food produced by animals, such as honey. A strict vegan also avoids products that may seem innocent, such as refined sugar (white table sugar), because animal bones are used to process it. Many vegans also refuse to use nonedible animal products, such as leather, silk, wool, feathers, and so on. This can get really complicated. For example, did you know that camera film isn’t vegan? Gelatin is used to manufacture it. Or that some lotions contain lanolin, which comes from wool? Strict vegans have to be very well informed.


A follower of the macrobiotic diet is mainly vegetarian, but this diet sometimes includes seafood. All other meat products are excluded,as well as eggs and dairy products. Basically, this diet focuses on eating local and seasonal foods that balance each other in harmonic ways. Some people follow this diet as a philosophy of life and others follow it for health reasons.


A fruitarian is a person who eats only fruits and vegetables, often including beans, nuts, and grains, usually raw. It is important that these things are taken from the plant without killing it.

Raw or Living Food Diet

A person who follows this diet eats only raw foods. The concern is that heating foods above 116°F destroys important enzymes that help with digestion. This person also believes that cooking diminishes the vitamin and mineral content of the food.

Hurray for all types of vegetarians! All of these choices can be healthy—some more than others—but it is important to be well informed about the health benefits and risks of any diet that you choose to follow. Although people often feel strongly that their choice is the best and may be critical of others, the reality is that cutting your meat consumption in any way is a positive step. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet benefits your health, promotes animal wellbeing, and helps the planet support the growing human population.

Veggie Revolution BookFrom Veggie Revolution: Smart Choices for a Healthy Body And a Healthy Planet by Sally Kneidel and Sara Kate Kneidel. © 2005 Fulcrum Publishing. Republished with permission.

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JeezeLuise's picture
User offline. Last seen 3 years 29 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 01/30/2013

I guess I am a mixture of a few categories but who needs labels! For health reasons I have chosen to change my lifestyle and am reaping the benefits! For almost 10 years I have been a bit of a vegetarian! Noticing a huge difference in my waist line, energy level and over all well-being since I started working out at GoodLife (cardio, weight training and yoga). Whey protein shakes post workout have made a huge difference in my health especially with fatigue. No dairy/eggs, beef/pork/poultry, processed sugar, peanuts and/or soda! Reading labels and trying really hard to consume minimum amounts of gluten, soy, coffee and alcohol. A glass or two of red wine once and a while and maybe a black coffee once or twice a week only when in desperate need of caffeine. Prefer to have a fruit and veggie smoothie for a boost of energy! I will always be a fish lover, shrimp, canned tuna & fresh salmon! Drinking a ton of herbal teas! Switched from soy milk to almond milk. Soy actually causes weight gain! Glad to learn that now before too much damage is done! As much as I love soybeans (edamame) with my Sushi, I will be happy to live without them if it means fitting into my skinny jeans! I no longer consume dairy products for health reasons but I will still use small amounts of low fat yogurt in my smoothies from time to time. Quinoa, oats, whole grains and tons of beans are a non meat eaters best friend! I am in no way preaching vegetarianism/veganism to anyone, just sharing some health tips!:) Ps. Substituting Extra Virgin Olive Oil for butter/margarine make a huge difference! Have not used butter/margarine in 8 years and do not feel the need to use it! Try out apple cider vinegar, unsweetened coconut milk, fresh lemon juice and balsamic vinaigrette to add flavor to your foods! Spices such as turmeric and cayenne pepper help to boost your metabolism and add a kick to your cooking! Cheers to making 2013 a life changing and healthy year!

Anonymous's picture

Do you know what you call somebody who eats everything, including meat and seafood, except dairy products.

Anonymous's picture

What do you call a person who is following a vegan diet exept if they catch their own fish or hunt their own rabbit/boar? Its not a regular thing but if i kill it myself its acceptable to me. I follow a vegan diet not for love of animals but because of the harm caused to the planet and because it's unsustainable to produce enough meat for all.

Anonymous's picture

what is it called when you eat meat but not dairy or eggs

Anonymous's picture

What is it called if I do eat seafood and dairy but I don't eat any other meats?

Anonymous's picture

I have the same question I hate dairy! But I love meat

Anonymous's picture

You do realize that Whey protein comes from a cow. There are Vegan options to protein shakes.

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