What Is a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Diet?

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Eggs and milk can be healthy parts of your diet and good sources of nutrients if you decide to cut out meat, chicken and fish. Lacto-ovo vegetarians don't eat meat, but they do eat dairy and eggs. "Lacto" refers to lactose, a sugar found naturally in milk, and "ovo" is derived from Latin, meaning egg. Following a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for a while is also a useful strategy for eventually transitioning to a vegan diet.

Plate of scrambled eggs.
Plate of scrambled eggs. (Image: voltan1/iStock/Getty Images)

What You Can and Can't Eat

A lacto-ovo diet includes vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy and eggs. You can drink milk and eat cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter and other dairy foods. A lacto-ovo diet eschews all meat, including beef, pork, poultry, fish and seafood, as well as any products containing these foods.

Small bowl of chocolate ice cream.
Small bowl of chocolate ice cream. (Image: bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images)

Benefits of a Lacto-Ovo Diet

Cutting red meat alone out of your diet reduces your risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in April 2012. The Dietitians of Canada website reports that a healthy lacto-ovo diet helps prevent obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.

Slices of raw red meat.
Slices of raw red meat. (Image: milarka/iStock/Getty Images)

Avoiding Nutrient Deficiencies

Vegetarian diets tend to be low in certain nutrients, including high-quality protein, vitamins B-12 and D, iron, zinc, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating eggs and dairy as part of your vegetarian diet helps you avoid many of those deficiencies because eggs are a rich source of protein and contain some iron and B-12. You can also purchase eggs enriched with omega-3s. Dairy is a rich source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. However, if you're only occasionally eating eggs and dairy, you still need to be vigilant about getting what you need each day.

Eggs on display at the grocery store.
Eggs on display at the grocery store. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Getting Enough Protein

Dairy and eggs contain high-quality protein, meaning they offer all the amino acids -- the building blocks of protein -- your body needs to maintain its tissues. Soy and quinoa are also complete, high-quality proteins. Spinach is another plant-based complete protein; however, its protein content is low compared to soy and quinoa. All other vegetarian sources of protein are incomplete, meaning they are low in or missing one amino acid. However, if you eat a variety of plant proteins throughout the day, you'll get everything you need.

Wooden spoonful of dry quinoa.
Wooden spoonful of dry quinoa. (Image: HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images)

Other Nutrient Sources

Depending on how much dairy and eggs you eat, you may need a B-12 supplement because B-12 is not naturally found in plant foods. Mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light and fortified foods are good sources of vitamin D. You'll get plenty of calcium from dairy foods, but dark leafy greens and fortified foods are also good sources.

Beans, spinach and tofu are go-to sources of iron in a vegetarian diet, but vegetarians need about twice as much iron as meat eaters because the type of iron in plant foods, called nonheme iron, isn't absorbed as well as heme iron from meat. You can improve absorption of nonheme iron by consuming nonheme iron foods with sources of vitamin C, such as lemon juice or bell peppers.

Stock up on zinc by eating beans and tofu, and get omega-3s from ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil.

Small plate of cubed tofu.
Small plate of cubed tofu. (Image: tashka2000/iStock/Getty Images)

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