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Straight, No Chaser: Vegetarian Diets – An Introduction to and Simple Understanding of Them

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD July 16, 2019


What a month! We’ve discussed many aspects of nutritious, healthy eating. One principle that has been consistent throughout is diets that include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables are healthier than those that don’t. Today’s conversation takes this principle to the max: vegetarian diets.
Before we even define the different types of vegetarian diets, let’s answer a simple question: “Why in the world would I ever consider being a vegetarian?” The answer to the question is best given by discussing some outcomes of interest.

  • Vegetarians generally have longer life expectancies than meat eaters.
  • Vegetarians are less likely to have heart disease.
  • Vegetarians are less likely to be obese.
  • Vegetarians are less likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Vegetarians are less likely to have certain types of diabetes.


The vegetarian diet focuses of the products of plants. These include the following types of foods: fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas and lentils). There are different types of vegetarian diets (representing levels of strictness), including the following:

  • Vegan: only plant-based floods (with “nothing from anything with feet”)
  • Lacto-vegetarian: Plant-based foods with an allowance for some dairy products
  • Lacto-ovovegetarian: Plant-based foods with an allowance for some dairy products and eggs
  • Semi- or partial vegetarian: The diet excludes red meat. It includes plant-based foods with an allowance for dairy products, eggs and certain meats (chicken and fish).

If you’re a semi-vegetarian, you may be further categorized based on the meat you eat:

  • Pescatarians eat fish but not red meat, pork or poultry.
  • Flexitarians (aka semi-vegetarians) occasionally eat red meat.


Now look back at the last six bullet points. The closer you get to being a strict vegetarian, the lower your risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and other certain other medical conditions. You can think of each bullet point as a stepladder to better health.
The point of this is there’s more than one approach to incorporating the principals of vegetarianism. You don’t have to be an absolutist to make your diet healthier. Just remember, the more plant-based your diet is, the healthier you’ll be. We’ve discussed this previously in the healthy eating plate. The bottom line remains the same. Most of you reading this don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains or legumes. The more your diet is tilted away from red meats and toward these options, the healthier you’ll be.
The next post will discuss specific concerns of vegetarian diets.
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