Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide
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Lacto-ovo vegetarian is a primarily plant-based diet that excludes meat, poultry, and seafood, but includes eggs and dairy.
The word “lacto” refers to milk, and “ovo” refers to eggs.
Whether for health, religious convictions, concerns about animal welfare or the environment, people follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for different reasons.
This article explains what you can eat on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, its health benefits, what supplements may be helpful, and provides a sample meal plan.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian vs vegetarian
Vegetarian is an umbrella term that refers to a diet that excludes meat or other animal products from the diet.
All lacto-ovo vegetarians are vegetarian, but not every vegetarian is a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
Other types of vegetarians include:
- Flexitarian: A semi-vegetarian style of eating that occasionally allows meat and other animal products, similar to the macrobiotic diet.
- Pescatarian: A vegetarian who eats fish and other forms of seafood.
- Lacto-vegetarian: A vegetarian who includes dairy in their diet.
- Ovo-vegetarian: A vegetarian who includes eggs in their diet.
- Pollotarian: A vegetarian who includes poultry like chicken and turkey in their diet.
- Vegan: As the most strict type of vegetarian diet, a vegan eliminates all animal-based products from their diets, including products with ingredients made from animals like honey.
What can lacto-ovo vegetarians eat?
Lacto-ovo vegetarians can eat any food of plant origin as well as dairy and egg products.
Foods of plant origin include:
- Fruits: apples, apricots, avocado, bananas, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, kiwifruit, oranges, pears, prickly pears, watermelon, etc.
- Vegetables: amaranth leaves, arugula, asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, potatoes, radishes, etc.
- Grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulger, corn, einkorn, farro, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt, teff, wheat, etc.
- Legumes: black beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, navy beans, peas, peanuts, peas, soybeans
- Nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
- Herbs: allspice, bay leaf, basil, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cilantro, clove, dill, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, rosemary, thyme, turmeric, etc.
- Oils: avocado oil, canola oil, coconut oil, olive oil
While a carefully planned vegan diet can supply all the protein you need, many lacto-ovo vegetarians rely on dairy and egg products for protein and other nutrients.
Here are some examples of dairy and egg products:
- Dairy: butter, cheese, cottage cheese, custard, gelato, ghee, ice cream, milk, sour cream, yogurt, and milk-based protein supplements, namely whey and casein
- Eggs: all bird and reptile eggs, breaded and batter-fried foods, caesar salad dressings, cream pies and fillings, crepes and waffles, eggnogs, eggrolls, and most types of desserts and baked goods
One-day sample lacto-ovo vegetarian diet
Here is a one-day sample lacto-ovo vegetarian diet:
- Breakfast: a cheesy egg omelet loaded with veggies, and oatmeal topped with fresh blueberries and sprinkled with cinnamon
- Snack: Greek yogurt, apple slices, and almonds
- Lunch: chickpea salad with cucumber, bell peppers, onion, olives, and feta cheese
- Snack: hummus and sliced veggies for dipping
- Dinner: Gingered stir-fry with broccoli, bell pepper, mushrooms, and tofu
Use this sample meal plan as a general guide and adjust the serving sizes and food choices based on your nutrient needs, ability to access and purchase foods, preferences, and any food allergies or intolerances.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian benefits
A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet offers a variety of benefits related to weight loss, flexibility, and athletic performance.
Weight loss and other health benefits
A primarily plant-based diet like the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is associated with a decreased risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (1, 2, 3, 4).
A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is also associated with weight loss, which in part, explains why people who follow the diet also have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (4, 5).
The weight-loss benefits from following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet likely stem from the diet’s high content of low-calorie and fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is also rich in beneficial plant compounds called phytochemicals, which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (6).
Easy to follow
Allowing dairy and egg products, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is less restrictive than other types of vegetarian diets such as a vegan diet or a lacto-vegetarian or ovo-vegetarian diet.
A less restrictive diet is much easier to follow long-term than a diet that restricts multiple food groups since it requires less planning and allows more variety.
Besides, a diet is only as good as your ability to follow it long-term.
Better for athletic performance than other vegetarian diets
Dairy and eggs provide several key nutrients that are important for athletic performance such as high-quality protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
As such, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet may be better for supporting athletic performance than a more strict vegetarian diet like a vegan diet.
However, a well-planned vegan diet — with appropriate supplementation to fill any nutrient gaps — can still support athletic performance to the same extent as a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, at least in recreational athletes (7, 8).
The best supplements for lacto-ovo vegetarians
Because lacto-ovo vegetarians eat dairy and egg products, they are less likely to be deficient in nutrients than a vegan like vitamin B12 and calcium.
However, certain supplements can still be useful to complement a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet to ensure optimal health.
While classified as a vitamin, vitamin D is more of a hormone.
Your intestines, kidneys, bones, and other organs contain vitamin D receptors where vitamin D binds and exerts a variety of important bodily functions (9).
Vitamin D is unique in that you can make it in the skin upon exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
However, depending on where you live, your skin color, and the time you spend outdoors, achieving enough vitamin D through the sun isn’t always possible.
And although many foods like milk and breakfast cereals are fortified with the vitamin, there are few natural dietary sources of vitamin D.
Consequently, about one billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency, and 50% of the population has a vitamin D insufficiency (10).
As such, supplementing with vitamin D is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
Daily supplementation with 1,000–2,000 IU (25–50 mcg) of vitamin D3 works well for most people who aren’t severely deficient in the vitamin (11).
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Creatine is a substance naturally produced by your body from amino acids — the building blocks of protein.
It helps supply your muscles with extra fuel so you can exercise harder for longer.
However, because creatine is primarily found in red meat and seafood, lacto-ovo vegetarians — especially athletes — may benefit from supplementing with creatine to improve exercise performance (12, 13).
In addition to supporting muscle and strength gains, creatine may also support brain and mental health (14).
Interestingly, some — but not all — studies have demonstrated that the prevalence or risk of depression is greater in people who avoid meat consumption like vegetarians (14, 15).
While it’s not entirely known why this association exists, it may be due to a lower store of creatine from avoiding meat.
As such, supplementing with creatine can be beneficial, even for non-athletes.
Creatine monohydrate is the most well-studied form of creatine in terms of safety and efficacy.
Most people can benefit from a dose of 3–5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day (14).
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Vegetarians tend to have significantly lower iron levels than non-vegetarians (15).
Iron is an essential mineral that your body needs for energy production, immune health, and to make proteins that carry oxygen throughout your body.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians and other types of vegetarians tend to be deficient in iron or have suboptimal levels since they avoid meats and seafood — the richest natural sources of heme iron, a highly absorbable form of iron (16).
Lacto-ovo vegetarians who are pregnant, with heavy menstrual bleeding, or frequent blood donors are at an even greater risk of iron deficiency.
You can plan a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet to contain plenty of iron, but you may consider a supplement if you are at a greater risk of developing iron deficiency (17).
The bottom line
A lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is a mostly plant-based way of eating that excludes meats, seafood, and poultry, but allows dairy and egg products.
Like other plant-based diets, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet can aid in weight loss and lower your risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Compared with other vegetarian diets, however, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet is less restrictive making it easier to follow and may better support athletic performance.
Vitamin D, creatine, and iron are the best supplements to consider when following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.