Lacto-ovo vegetarians are people who do not eat meat, but do include dairy products (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in their diets.
The term vegetarian was coined in 1847 by the founders of the Vegetarian Society of Great Britain, although vegetarianism as a way of life has existed for thousands of years. The founders of the Vegetarian Society were lacto-ovo vegetarians.
One of the central ideas that has motivated vegetarians is that food choices should not require the death or suffering of animals. Thus, many vegetarians avoid meat but eat dairy products and eggs (on the grounds that store-bought eggs are unfertilized). Some people argue, however, that eating eggs may prevent the life of an animal, so some vegetarians are lacto-vegetarians. Veganism, another type of vegetarianism, follows a diet that uses no animal products at all.
Some of the world’s oldest religious traditions have advocated vegetarianism as a means to both physical and spiritual health. In the Christian tradition, the Trappist monks of the Roman Catholic Church are vegetarian, as are the Seventh Day Adventists, who form a group large enough that many studies have been performed on them to determine the health benefits of lacto-ovo vegetarianism. Some vegetarians maintain that there is evidence that Jesus and the early Christians were vegetarians as well. In ancient India, the idea of ahimsa developed, which means “not doing harm.” Followers of this creed believe that living in a manner that reduces the suffering of other living beings, including animals, is necessary to reach higher levels of spiritual health. In the Hindu religion, cows are considered sacred animals because Hindus believe that milk is a nutritious and life-supporting gift from nature. Millions of Hindus are lacto-vegetarians. The yoga system of living and health is vegetarian, because its dietary practices are based on the belief that healthy food contains prana. Prana is the universal life energy, which yoga experts believe is abundant in fresh fruits, grains, nuts and vegetables, but absent in meat because it comes from an animal that has been killed. Some Buddhists in Japan and China are vegetarian because of their spiritual beliefs. Other traditional cultures, such as those in the Middle East and the Mediterranean regions, have evolved diets that consist mainly of lacto-ovo vegetarian foods. The Mediterranean diet, which a Harvard study declared to be one of the world’s healthiest, is primarily although not strictly lacto-ovo vegetarian. The list of famous vegetarians forms an illustrious group. The ancient Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras, advocated vegetarianism. Other famous vegetarians include Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, the physician Albert Schweitzer, writer George Bernard Shaw, musician Paul McCartney, and champion triathlete Dave Scott. Albert Einstein, although not a strict vegetarian himself, stated that a vegetarian diet would be an evolutionary step forward for the human race. Vegetarianism in America has generally consisted of a small but vocal number of adherents. It has its roots in the mid-1800s, when some people began to question accepted health and dietary practices. In 1839, Sylvester Graham, who invented the “graham cracker” from whole wheat flour, wrote Lectures on the Science of Human Life. A few decades later, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau both advocated vegetarianism. In 1883, Howard Williams published The Ethics of Diet, which promoted vegetarianism and listed all the famous vegetarians throughout history. Williams’s book influenced many people around the world, including Russian writer Leo Tolstoy and Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi, although vegetarianism remained largely unpopular in America.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism is sometimes recommended as a dietary therapy for a variety of conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, obesity, osteoporosis, hypertension, gout, gallstones, kidney stones, ulcers, colitis, hemorrhoids, premenstrual syndrome, anxiety, and depression. A 2001 study showed that vegetarian diets often contain more copper than nonvegetarian diets. Copper is an important nutrient often lacking in today’s typical diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism is an economical and easily implemented preventive practice. It does, however, require self-education regarding an adequate diet in those who adopt it.
It is generally recommended that a vegetarian diet be adopted gradually, to allow people’s bodies and lifestyles time to adjust to new eating habits and food intake. Some nutritionists have designed “transition” diets to help people become vegetarian in stages. Many Americans eat meat products at nearly every meal, and the first stage of a transition diet is to replace meat in just a few meals a week with wholly vegetarian foods. Then, particular meat products can be slowly reduced and eliminated from the diet and replaced with vegetarian foods. Red meat can be reduced and then eliminated, followed by pork, poultry and fish. Individuals should be willing to experiment with transition diets, and should have patience when learning how to combine vegetarianism with such social activities as dining out. Many vegetarian cookbooks are available to help new vegetarians prepare meals at home.
The transition to vegetarianism can be smoother for those who make informed choices regarding dietary practices. Sound nutritional guidelines include decreasing fat intake, increasing fiber, and emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains while avoiding processed foods and sugar. Other helpful health practices include reading food labels and understanding such basic nutritional concepts as daily requirements for calories, protein, fats, and nutrients.