A lacto-ovo vegetarian follows a diet that excludes all meat, fish and poultry, but includes dairy products and eggs. The dietary requirements of a lacto-ovo vegetarian are the same as those of people who choose to consume meat. However, lacto-ovo vegetarians need to be especially conscious of obtaining adequate protein, iron and vitamin B12. The summer 2003 position statement of the American Dietetic Association holds that vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may help to reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian Health
A mounting body of medical research indicates that vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally equivalent to omnivorous diets, but that they may also offer distinct health advantages. The benefits associated with a vegetarian diet include a lower intake of saturated fats and higher consumption of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, folic acid, carotenoids and vitamins C and E. Population-level evidence indicates that, on average, vegetarians tend to have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and certain cancers and digestive disorders. A 2005 article published in the journal “Forum of Nutrition” observes that most nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian diets do not relate to the inability to obtain adequate nutrients through vegetarian food sources, but rather to poor meal planning.
While meat, fish and poultry are rich sources of dietary protein, many other foods contain amino acids and provide a level of protein sufficient to daily needs. Proteins are categorized as either complete or incomplete, depending on the combination of essential and nonessential amino acids that they contain. Complete protein sources include eggs and dairy, and certain plant-based foods, such as soy, quinoa and buckwheat. When consumed in combination, incomplete proteins provide a complete protein source. Healthful amino acid combinations include rice and beans, rice and corn, hummus and pita and veggie burgers on whole wheat bread.
Vitamin B12 derives naturally from animal products, and studies indicate that vegetarians may be at an increased risk for deficiencies. However, many commercial cereals and grains are vitamin B12 fortified. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, B12 deficiencies are less common, because both dairy and eggs provide a rich source of the nutrient. Ensuring sufficient B12 is particularly important for pregnant women, as deficiencies are associated with severe cognitive birth defects. Lacto-ovo vegetarian women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should consult their physician to discuss dietary needs.
Vegetarians may need to be particularly vigilant about making sure they receive an adequate supply of essential minerals, especially iron and zinc. Iron helps to form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the bloodstream, and deficiencies can result in anemia. Although iron is present in animal products, it also derives from plant sources, such as beans and dark green leafy vegetables. Zinc, though abundant in seafood and meat, is also found in numerous vegetables, such as gourds and squash, endive, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and taro root.
While eggs and dairy provide lacto-ovo vegetarians with a generous supply of protein and essential vitamins and minerals, they are also high in cholesterol. To avoid high cholesterol and related health problems, a balanced lacto-ovo diet should include diverse protein sources, as well as ample helpings of heart-friendly grains, fruits and vegetables.