Eat meat and vegetables

What Kind of Vegetarian Are You?

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to vegetarianism. Food and health experts say more and more people are adopting some type of vegetarian diet, but what they choose to eat and not eat depends on what type of vegetarian they want to be.

About 2.5 percent of American adults (or 4.8 million people) consistently ate a vegetarian diet in 2000, according to the American Dietetic Association, and 20 to 25 percent ate four or more meatless meals a week. Experts believe this number is growing, given the large number of vegetarian options popping up on restaurant menus and in prepackaged foods at the grocery store.

Vegetarian: What Does It Mean?

Generally speaking, a vegetarian eats fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas, grains, nuts and seeds and avoids meat, fish, and fowl. However, within the vegetarian category, there are a number of subgroups, including the following:

  • Lacto-vegetarians who eat plant foods plus dairy products
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians who consume both dairy products and eggs
  • Vegans who avoid all animal products — no dairy, no eggs — and eat only vegetables, fruits, and grains


Then there are those who call themselves semi-vegetarians.

“Semi-vegetarian does not have one standard definition,” says Susan B. Roberts, PhD, professor in the nutrition and psychiatry departments at Tufts University in Boston and author of The Instinct Diet. “People use it to describe their own practice of a largely, but not exclusively, vegetarian diet.”

A semi-vegetarian could be a person who usually eats vegetarian but occasionally eats meat, for instance, or it could be someone who doesn’t eat red meat but eats other meats.

Raw-Food Diet

Some people also enjoy a raw-food diet. “Raw-food diets are those that emphasize eating uncooked stuff — truly raw products, uncooked, non-homogenized, etc.,” says Roberts. “Again, there is no one single definition; it bundles a bunch of things. For example, some people would eat 100 percent raw, others would consider you are eating a raw-food diet if most — two-thirds or more — is raw.” A raw-food diet might include vegetables only, or it might include fish, meat, and eggs as well, she says.

There are health risks to consuming a raw-food diet. Eating uncooked foods, such as some fish or meat, can cause food poisoning, warns Roberts. She notes that many types of sprouts contain dangerous bacteria as well.

Fruitarian Diet

The least common type of vegetarian diet is called a fruitarian diet. As with semi-vegetarians and the raw-food dieters, there is no strict definition of what it means to be a fruitarian. Basically, though, fruitarians eat only the ripe fruit of plants and trees.

Roberts does not advocate the fruitarian diet. “This is pure craziness,” she says. “Fortunately, it is also really rare because it is hard and would make you feel crummy quite soon. It is impossible to consume a nutritionally safe diet when you follow these rules. You would have to add substantial extra foods for it to be healthy — for example, milk, nuts, grains — and then you have got a vegetarian diet.”

Why Do People Choose a Vegetarian Diet?

Many people decide to eat a vegetarian diet for health reasons. Research has shown that vegetarians have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower cholesterol and are less likely to die from heart disease. They may also be at lower risk for constipation, diverticulosis (small pouches that protrude from the large intestine and can become infected and inflamed), gallstones, and appendicitis.

Others become vegetarians for religious beliefs, because of environmental or animal welfare concerns, for economic reasons, or because they just don’t like the taste or texture of meat.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Healthy?

People who adhere to a vegetarian diet may not be feeding their body important nutrients it needs to optimally function. Of particular concern is vitamin B-12, which comes naturally only from animal sources, and protein, iron, vitamin D, calcium, and zinc. So, if you are considering adopting a vegetarian diet, talk to a nutritionist to make sure you get the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

By taking certain vitamin supplements and by careful meal planning, being a vegetarian can be a healthy and rewarding way of life.

Vegetarianism: What It Means To Be A Vegetarian


Vegetarianism technically refers to someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish. That’s the most basic definition of vegetarianism. However, in practice, a vegetarian might have more specific rules.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Vegetarianism technically refers to someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish. That’s the most basic definition of vegetarianism. However, in practice, a vegetarian might have more specific rules.

Vegetarianism isn’t some new fad. In fact, the first vegetarian society was formed in England in the mid-1800s, and the practice dates back to Pythagoras — or perhaps even further.

People who choose a vegetarian diet do so for myriad reasons. Some don’t even have a reason other than the fact that they simply prefer fruits and vegetables to chicken breasts and filet mignon.

Regardless, vegetarianism has become a polarizing topic in today’s culture, and we’d like to break down some of the myths about this dietary preference and explain why it might be best for your health and well-being.

What Does Vegetarianism Mean?

Vegetarianism is a diet that refrains from consuming the meat of any animal (poultry, red meat, fish, seafood, or any other animal that was killed for its meat). Vegetarians also generally abstain from consuming animal by-products like gelatin or other animal parts that are processed and used in food. That’s the most basic definition of vegetarianism. However, in practice, a vegetarian might have more specific rules.

Everyone approaches their diet differently. A vegetarian, for instance, might make a distinction between fish and meat, preferring to consume the former and not the latter. But we’ll dive into those details further in a second.

For now, you need to know that vegetarianism involves removing meat from your diet. No more steaks, fried chicken, or surf-n-turf.

But that doesn’t mean vegetarianism creates a sense of deprivation. Quite the opposite, in fact, When your diet consists primarily of animal products, you might miss out on some of the amazing flavors that come from other foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.

Vegetarianism vs. Veganism

Many people use the terms vegetarianism and veganism interchangeable. They’re not the same thing. A vegan doesn’t consume or use animal products at all.

For instance, a vegetarian might have scrambled eggs for breakfast and pasta with a cream sauce for dinner. A vegan wouldn’t touch either food.

Why? Because eggs and dairy come from animals. Veganism means eschewing any foods or products that have animal origins.

Further, vegans don’t use consumer products made from animal products. Leather belts, wool coats, and similar products don’t appeal to vegans.

In some ways, it’s a question of labels. A vegetarian might avoid eggs and dairy but still wear leather boots, for instance. There are no clear lines. You have to decide what types of foods and products you’re willing to consume based on your beliefs, moral compass, and health considerations.

Types of Vegetarianism

We mentioned above that vegetarianism can be broken down into lots of little parts. Some vegetarians eliminate or add foods to their diets based on their personal preference.

Remember, a true vegetarian who goes by the strict definition doesn’t consume meat or fish. Everything else is on the table.

However, if you want to further refine your diet and set your own rules, you might find one of the following types of vegetarianism more appealing.


Lacto vegetarianism — also called lactarianism — describes a diet in which the person doesn’t eat meat, fish, or eggs, but consumes dairy. The person might add butter or ghee to a baked potato, for instance, but won’t scarf down an omelette.

Some lacto vegetarians adopt the diet for religious or spiritual reasons. Many faiths require their members to avoid any food or product that comes from violence. When you eat an egg, you destroy the life that grows inside. Dairy products, when sourced ethically, don’t cause the animal any harm.

Pay careful attention to that caveat, though: “when sourced ethically.”

Many factory farming operations create dismal conditions for the animals inside and cause serious harm. If you decide you want to eat dairy, but you want to ensure non-violence, consider finding a local source that takes animal welfare into account.

If you struggle to remember the naming conventions, associate lacto with lactation — the production of milk. Lacto vegetarianism allows you to eat dairy.


Just as lacto means milk, ovo means egg. An ovo vegetarian eats eggs, but doesn’t consume any dairy products. You might hear them referred to as eggetarians.

Just like lacto vegetarianism, ovo vegetarianism often comes from ethics. Many ovo vegetarians recognize the unethical ways in which factory farmers source dairy products, so they only consume eggs that come from free-range chickens.

The idea here is that an egg is not yet an animal. Ovo vegetarianism allows the practitioner to avoid dairy products, but still consume eggs as long as they’re sourced ethically.

There’s that word again.

Regardless of your dietary habits, if you’re concerned about animal welfare, you must make sure that you know where your food comes from. That way, you can eat without guilt.


Lacto-ovo vegetarianism combines the last two practices into one. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you’ll eat eggs and dairy, but no meat products. The term can go both ways. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism means the same as ovo-lacto vegetarianism.

Many vegetarians don’t use the term lacto-ovo at all. That’s because it’s the most common type of vegetarianism. These vegetarians eat eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, roots, fungi, and more.


A pescatarian is a vegetarian who eats seafood, but no other forms of meat. These vegetarians might fill their plates with tuna, salmon, lobster, shrimp, and other cooked creatures of the sea, but they don’t consume beef, poultry, or animal organs.


Also called “flexitarians,” semivegetarians eat mostly plant-based diets, but occasionally consume meat. They prefer fruits, vegetables, and other non-meat foods.

Think of a flexitarian as a teetotaler who enjoys a glass of champagne to ring in the New Year with friends. He or she doesn’t normally drink alcohol but will make exceptions for special occasions.

Many semivegetarians adopt this diet for convenience. If they go out to eat with family or friends, they don’t have to pick apart the menu with a fine-toothed comb. Instead, they can feel free to eat what they want, then return to their normal diet afterward.


The root word pollo means chicken. Consequently, pollotarians eat chicken but don’t eat any other meat products. The reasons behind this dietary choice can vary. Some do it because of the free-range movement, while others consume chicken for health reasons.

Benefits of Vegetarianism

Now that we have defined vegetarianism, why would you want to try it? Many people talk about vegetarianism with such persuasive fervor that they turn off people who might want to try it.

First, let’s concede a few points. Our bodies can consume meat. Beef, poultry, and other animal products provide macro and micronutrients your body can use.

There’s no disputing those facts.

However, your body doesn’t need animal products to survive — or even to thrive. Vegetarianism won’t keep you from pursuing goals, such as physical fitness, or from getting the nutrients you need.

In fact, many world-class athletes follow vegetarianism or veganism.

So why do so many people adopt vegetarian diets? Let’s look at some of the most prominent benefits of cutting meat from your diet.

Animal Welfare

Let’s start with our feathered and furred friends. Animal welfare is one of the chief reasons people turn to vegetarianism. They don’t want to contribute to animal abuse, which runs rampant in the farming industry.

You might have heard the phrase “vote with your dollars.” When you don’t financially support an industry you oppose, you help cripple it.

Animals that go through factory farms often suffer serious and painful injuries due to cramped living conditions. They don’t get fresh air or proper nutrition, and they’re often fed hormones to make them larger than they’re designed to be.

Vegetarianism makes a statement. It lets people know you don’t support animal abuse in service of human food.

Environmental Welfare

Every animal on this planet has a purpose. It’s here for a reason, whether it’s to produce manure for agricultural purposes, improve pest control, or something else. Furthermore, they deserve to live independently of human needs.

Factory farming and similar operations can severely damage the environment apart from the animal welfare side of the equation. The manure from the animals can seep into our groundwater, the operation itself uses equipment that contributes to carbon emissions, and the factories themselves consume land that could be used for other purposes.

Reduced Heart Disease Risks

Let’s talk about red meat specifically. Numerous studies have linked it to increased heart disease risks due to high levels of saturated fat. Additionally, some people even have red meat allergies.

One-quarter of deaths result from heart disease. Reducing or eliminating your intake of red meat can help preserve your heart health and improve your chances of living longer.

Red meat isn’t the only culprit, though. Chicken, for instance, has high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids and low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6s are linked to inflammation in the body, which could include your heart.

Lower Risk of Cancer

According to MD Anderson, perhaps the most credible source of information about cancer, meat consumption has long been associated with an increased risk for cancer. In fact, the organization specifically recommends plant-based proteins over those derived from meat.

Additionally, MD Anderson recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of meat per week.

What does that look like on your plate? Four tennis balls.

You can cut meat entirely and reap additional benefits, including reduced cancer risk.

Prevent and Control Diabetes

According to the most recent statistics from the American Diabetes Association, which date back to 2015, 30.3 million Americans have diabetes. That’s nearly 10 percent of our population.

Even more worrisome, about 1.5 million Americans get diagnosed with diabetes every year. So what do we do about this?

You can reduce your risk of diabetes in numerous ways:

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid sugary snacks
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day
  • Get more sleep
  • Drink less alcohol

You can also cut down on or eliminate red meat from your diet. Red meat contributes to insulin resistance, which makes managing and preventing diabetes more difficult. The high sodium content combined with the risk of high blood pressure don’t help.

Save Money

You’ve probably heard that vegetarianism costs more than eating meat. In some ways, you’re not wrong.

Stocking up on fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes can put a dent in your wallet. Over time, however, you save money.

Perhaps you skip the grocery store altogether. Instead, shop local at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. You can often save hundreds of dollars on fresh, organically grown produce.

You can also grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs more easily than you can raise cattle or chickens for food. Consider setting up a garden or greenhouse if you have space.

Additionally, remember that meat is expensive. You might spend between $3 and $8 per pound, depending on the cut, and you’ll often have significant waste. Trimming the fat, cutting the meat into the desired shape for a dish, and other culinary tasks increase the cost of meat significantly.

Why Should You Embrace Vegetarianism?

If the prospect of never eating meat again makes you break out in hives, don’t make that commitment yet. Consider converting to vegetarianism for 30 days.

That’s easy, right? Adjust your diet for a month and see how you feel.

You might experience greater mental clarity, more energy, boosted motivation, and even increased satiety. After all, if you’re eating a healthy plant-based diet, you can consume greater portion sizes without packing on the pounds.

Here’s the thing: You can control more of your environment and your diet as a vegetarian or vegan. Furthermore, you reduce the dollars flowing toward factory farms and other operations that impact animal and environmental welfare.

A healthier diet never hurt anyone. And if, after 30 days, you want to go back to eating meat, maybe you’ll cut back and eat more plants. It’s entirely up to you.


Vegetarianism is one of the healthiest diets in the world. It introduces more flavors to your plate via fresh fruits and vegetables, and it reduces your impact on the environment.

Some vegetarians have been eating this way since they were children, while others adopted a vegetarian diet as adults. It doesn’t matter how you come to vegetarianism. What matters is how you control your diet so it ensures the health of both animals and humans.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll even take the leap to veganism.

Are you a vegetarian? What tips or advice would you have for people who haven’t yet become vegetarians?


Q: What are the types or levels of vegetarianism?

A: There are several “levels” of vegetarianism, or types of vegetarian diet, that depend on which foods you choose not to eat. Starting from the most restrictive and working our way down, the types of vegetarian are as follows:

  1. Vegan
  2. Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. So vegans of course do not consume red or white meat, fish or fowl. They also do not consume eggs and dairy. Vegans do not use honey or beeswax, gelatin and any other animal by-product ingredients or products. Vegans typically do not use animal products such as silk, leather and wool, as well.

  3. Lacto Vegetarian
  4. Lacto-vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, fish, fowl or eggs. However, lacto-vegetarians do consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt.

  5. Ovo Vegetarian
  6. Ovo-vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, fish, fowl or dairy products. However, ovo-vegetarians do consume egg products.

  7. Lacto-ovo vegetarian
  8. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not consume red meat, white meat, fish or fowl. However, lacto-ovo vegetarians do consume dairy products and egg products. This is the most common type of vegetarian.

  9. Pescatarian (Pescetarian)
  10. While technically not a type of vegetarian, these individuals do restrict their meat consumption to fish and seafood only. Pescatarians do not consume red meat, white meat or fowl. This is considered a “semi-vegetarian” or “flexitarian” diet.

  11. Pollotarian
  12. Much like the pescatarian, this “semi-vegetarian” diet restricts meat consumption to poultry and fowl only, and is not officially considered a vegetarian. Pollotarians do not consume red meat or fish and seafood

  13. Flexitarian
  14. A plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu. These folks do their best to limit meat intake as much as possible and they have an almost entirely plant-based diet. This is not technically considered a “vegetarian” diet, but we commend the effort!

What kind of vegetarian are you?

There are many different ways to approach vegetarianism, and it’s up to you to make dietary choices that best fit your lifestyle. Consider your health and fitness goals or needs when choosing. Whether you are becoming a vegetarian yourself, or simply trying to better support your vegetarian friends and family, we hope this list and chart have been helpful!

While some meat-eaters stereotype the motivations of vegetarians, the truth is the decision to adopt a meat-free diet is a complex, multi-faceted dietary choice.

People of all ages and backgrounds are vegetarians. People who follow a vegetarian diet never eat meat, fish or poultry. Instead, they rely on a variety of plant-based foods for good health and eating enjoyment.

Types of Vegetarians

There are many types of vegetarians. Some eat dairy foods, such as cheese or eggs, while others abstain entirely from any food product that comes from an animal.

A lacto-ovo vegetarian, for example, consumes milk and dairy foods, eggs, grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, but abstains from meat, fish and poultry. A lacto-vegetarian follows a similar diet, but does not eat eggs. Meanwhile, a vegan stays away from animal-based products entirely, which, in addition to meat, also includes milk and dairy products, lard, gelatin and foods with ingredients from animal sources. Some vegans also do not eat honey.

Why Choose a Vegetarian Diet

People choose vegetarian diets for many reasons, including personal preference, health concerns, dislike for meat or other food from animals, or they believe a plant-based diet is healthier.

Some adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons. Many vegetarians, for example, avoid meat because they do not want animals killed or harmed. These individuals may object to the treatment of animals raised on industrial farms.

The environment is an additional concern for some vegetarians. Issues have been cited concerning all aspects of the environment, such as animal waste from factory farms polluting the land and water or forests that are cut down to make room for grazing cattle.

Religious beliefs also can play an important role in vegetarianism. For instance, followers of Jainism practice nonviolence (also called ahimsa, meaning “do no harm”), and do not eat meat or certain vegetables, such as onions, potatoes and garlic. Hindus also believe in ahimsa and are the world’s largest vegetarian population. They believe in the dietary customs of self-control and purity of mind and spirit. Seventh-day Adventists practice a vegetarian lifestyle, while Buddhists also support the concept of ahimsa (although some eat fish or meat).

Health Benefits

Many people make the switch to a vegetarian diet because of the potential health benefits. Vegetarian eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes including lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. Also, vegetarians tend to consume a lower proportion of calories from fat and fewer overall calories, and more fiber, potassium and vitamin C than non-vegetarians. These characteristics, plus lifestyle factors, may contribute to the health benefits among vegetarians.

Note: A healthy eating pattern is essential in order to obtain the health benefits of becoming a vegetarian. The Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate provide guidance for planning a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet.

What Is Veganism, and What Do Vegans Eat?

Vegans generally choose to avoid animal products for one or more of the following reasons.


Ethical vegans strongly believe that all creatures have the right to life and freedom.

Therefore, they oppose ending a conscious being’s life simply to consume its flesh, drink its milk, or wear its skin — especially because alternatives are available.

Ethical vegans are also opposed to the psychological and physical stress that animals may endure as a result of modern farming practices.

For instance, ethical vegans deplore the small pens and cages in which many livestock live and often rarely leave between birth and slaughter.

What’s more, many vegans speak out against the farming industry’s practices, such as the grinding of live male chicks by the egg industry or the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the foie gras market.

Ethical vegans may demonstrate their opposition by protesting, raising awareness, and choosing products that don’t involve animal agriculture.


Some people choose veganism for its potential health effects.

For example, plant-based diets may reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and premature death (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Lowering your intake of animal products may likewise reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dying from cancer or heart disease (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

Some also choose veganism to avoid the side effects linked to the antibiotics and hormones used in modern animal agriculture (11, 12, 13).

Finally, studies consistently link vegan diets to a lower body weight and body mass index (BMI). Some people may choose these diets to lose weight (14, 15, 16).


People may also choose to avoid animal products because of the environmental impact of animal agriculture.

A 2010 United Nations (UN) report argued that these products generally require more resources and cause higher greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based options (17).

For instance, animal agriculture contributes to 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions, 35–40% of methane emissions, and 9% of carbon dioxide emissions (18).

These chemicals are considered the three principal greenhouse gasses involved in climate change.

That’s up to 43 times more water than is needed to produce the same amount of cereal grains (20).

Animal agriculture can also lead to deforestation when forested areas are burned for cropland or pasture. This habitat destruction is thought to contribute to the extinction of various animal species (18, 21).

SUMMARY People may choose to go vegan for a variety of reasons, including ethical, health, and environmental concerns.

Vegan, Vegetarian, Macrobiotic…What’s the Difference?


by: Sara Kate Kneidel & Sally Kneidel

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 five 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, and many choose to be vegetarian as removing meat from you diet is known to reduce your risk of heart disease. 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—generally as some don’t consider aquatic creatures the same as other animals. Also, fish is generally a much healthier choice than pork or beef and takes less time to cook. Our Grill-Poached Fish Skillet recipe, for example, takes roughly 20 minutes to cook and serves six! 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 one 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 non-edible 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. (Our autumn salad is perfect for fruitarians, by the way!) It’s 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’s 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 well-being, and helps the planet support the growing human population.

Recent headlines and a new study seem to suggest that we’ve overturned nutrition science and eating recommendations once again — this time around red and processed meat consumption. If it feels like we can’t make up our minds about how to eat well, it’s because we’ve been here before. There are many examples, but probably few as extreme as butter and eggs, which have been through the same back and forth. But before you reach for the red and processed meat, butter and eggs, let’s take a look at why nutrition science keeps getting turned on its head, and what you need to know about these standard American diet staples.

What’s the deal with red and processed meat?

To meat or not to meat? In a new analysis of previously published research, study authors suggest there’s no need to cut back on red or processed meat. However, this report isn’t based on new science or information. The team of researchers argue that previous research is weak, and that since people enjoy red and processed meat, they’d find it difficult to stop eating it. Therefore, they conclude: Don’t bother trying. Instead, they suggest eating red and processed meat in the amount you’re currently eating.

This conclusion has been massively refuted by other health authorities and organizations, including the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Institute for Cancer Research. In essence, it’s total bologna! Nutrition is an imperfect science because much of what we know comes from a type of study known as an observational study. To help you understand why these (and other diet-related) studies seem so conflicting, I’m going to break down some research basics. Stick with me! We’ll get to the bottom of all of this!

The most well-regarded diet-related observational studies are conducted by following people (often hundreds of thousands of them) over an extended period of time (often decades), collecting dietary recalls every so often, and then determining who develops health problems. From there, researchers can see if there’s a link between a certain dietary pattern (say, high in red meat) and a disease (say, heart disease). But these studies aren’t meant to prove any cause and effect (for example, that red meat causes heart disease). They’re only looking at trends — for instance, that people with diets especially high in red meat are more likely to experience heart disease compared with non-meat eaters. (Note, I’m not citing any study specifics here, but using these examples for illustration purposes.)

Another form of observational study matches people with the disease (let’s stick with heart disease) to a similar set of people who are healthy. They might look back, asking study participants questions about their diet or other lifestyle factors to see if any trends emerge. This type of data points us in the right direction, but there are obvious issues with asking people to recall how often they typically ate something or participated in another behavior in the past. Still, these studies help scientists connect the dots between a potential behavior (let’s go with eating red meat again) and a health phenomenon.

A more rigorous study is called a randomized clinical trial. This type of research design is considered the gold standard because it can prove one thing causes another thing. Though it’s a great way to study certain scientific questions, it’s not necessarily the most practical way to address the link between diet and disease since diseases may take years upon years to surface and these studies involve a more controlled (and therefore, costly) set up. That’s why it’s common — though not perfect—to use observational studies to inform us about diet and health.

So in essence, what this new report says is that observational studies don’t give us strong enough evidence to suggest that people who enjoy eating meat should stop eating it. However, when multiple observational studies make the same links, it strengthens the case. And we do have many studies along these lines suggesting that red and processed meats are associated with health problems. Also, we can’t ignore the science on other dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean Diet, which is limited in red and processed meat in favor of a more plant-based eating pattern with smaller amounts of animal protein. Studies consistently link this eating pattern with health benefits, which are important to consider when assessing the big picture and making health recommendations.

Get the better newsletter.

Bottom line: There’s nothing new to report here, other than the fact that this new analysis opened up Pandora’s box (and created a lot of confusion) by interpreting the previously reported and well-established data another way. Experts and health organizations are aligned on this: It’s still a smart idea to reduce your red meat intake and really curtail your processed meat consumption in order to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What about eggs? Are they good or bad?

Based on what we currently know about eggs, most healthy people can safely consume up to seven eggs per week, be it a three-egg omelet twice a week or a hard boiled egg every day. The concern with eggs stems from the fact that they’re high in cholesterol and there’s a link between high blood cholesterol and heart disease. However, over time, we’ve learned that the cholesterol from food sources doesn’t impact the cholesterol in your blood. So in 2015, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines noted that current evidence doesn’t support concerns with cholesterol coming from dietary sources, such as eggs. At that time, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines stopped recommending cholesterol limits.

A recent study gave rise to questions about this direction. This type of study, known as a meta-analysis, pooled data from previous studies in order to get a potentially broader picture of risk. Pooled data can strengthen our understanding of certain things, but in this case, there were flaws in how egg consumption was assessed. The studies from which the data was pooled used a single food recall to determine egg consumption, which I mentioned earlier is problematic for obvious reasons. Though food recall is an important tool to help scientists on their fact-finding mission, it’s not the most conclusive tool. Plus, while this study looked at other sources of cholesterol and saturated fat in the diet, along with other lifestyle factors (like exercise patterns) that might contribute to someone’s heart disease risk, it didn’t account for these factors in a meaningful way.

Bottom line: How you eat your eggs matters as much as how often and how many you’re eating. To protect your heart and lower the risk of other serious health concerns, rethink common sides, like bacon, sausages and white toast. Instead, focus on heart-healthy accompaniments, like sliced avocado, salsa, black beans, whole grain toast, roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed greens. If you want to bolster egg-based dishes without going over the seven-egg-per-week cutoff, use a mix of egg whites with whole eggs since it’s the yolk that contains all of the cholesterol (though it also contains most of the other nutrients as well).

Is butter back?

Not necessarily, but it’s probably not as harmful as we once thought. The concern with butter comes from the fact that it’s high in saturated fat, which was thought to raise blood cholesterol levels and therefore, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. But we now know that the story behind saturated fat is more complex. Some sources, like red meat, are still suspect (though health risk may also be related to other compounds in red meat) whereas other sources (like full fat dairy products) are now considered less risky.

That said, while butter may not raise your risk of health problems in and of itself, it doesn’t appear to lower your risk, either. But other fats, like avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil have been found to be health protective so your overall diet should emphasize these types of plant-based fats.

Bottom line: If you want to spread a little butter on your whole grain toast and are otherwise eating wholesome foods and healthy fats, it’s probably fine. But make avocado and extra-virgin olive oil your go-to cooking oils and emphasize other healthier fats (such as nuts and seeds and their butters) in meals and snacks.

The best way to lose weight boils down to these three things

May 31, 201802:11

The final word

Here’s what we’ve covered: Nutrition is an imperfect science and there’s some discomfort in that. Because of the way we study diet patterns and health phenomena, we might not get the most conclusive info. But we can gather a lot of evidence that points us in a solid direction. Just about all of that evidence tells us that your overall dietary pattern matters more than one thing (like butter or red meat) on your plate. The dietary pattern that’s consistently linked with the best health outcomes — longer, healthier lives with limited pain and illness, and fewer memory problems — is one that’s rich in plant foods. Those are foods, like vegetables, fruits, pulses (the umbrella term for beans, legumes and lentils), whole grains (like oats, bulgur, quinoa and brown rice), and healthy fats from plant sources, like nuts, seeds, avocados and olives (as well as all of their butters and oils).

In addition to what you’re emphasizing, it’s important to think about what foods to limit and what swaps you’re making to replace those gaps in your diet. A healthy eating pattern is low in red meat and very low in processed meat, and it contains few refined grains, heavily processed snack foods, and foods with added sugars. That means swapping your steak for pizza or fried chicken with French fries isn’t a trade up.

However, if your plate contains generous portions of veggies and you’re routinely consuming wholesome plant-based foods and fats, a weekly lean steak dinner along with a baked potato with a pat of butter can be OK.


  • Bad nutrition advice dietitians want you to forget
  • The best way to lose weight boils down to these three things
  • What you need to know about going vegan
  • What is healthier: natural sugar, table sugar or artificial sweeteners?
  • The healthier pick: a hot dog or a hamburger?

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *