What is a vegetarian diet?


A vegetarian is usually described as someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry, fish, shellfish or any by-products of slaughter.

However there is no single, accepted definition of ‘vegetarian’. People may define themselves as vegetarians because they largely choose plant based diets, will include some fish (pescetarian), or are what has been popularly described as flexitarian or ‘semi-vegetarian’ (someone who is mostly vegetarian but occasionally eats meat or poultry).

Some of the common types of vegetarians are:

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians (the most common type) – eats dairy products and eggs
  • Lacto-vegetarians – eats dairy products but not eggs
  • Ovo-vegetarian – eats eggs but not dairy products
  • Vegan – does not eat any products of animal origin so does not eat any dairy products, eggs or honey

How many people in the UK are vegetarian?

From recent dietary surveys (National Diet and Nutrition Survey) we can estimate that around 2% of adults and children living in the UK are vegetarian. This equates to more than 1.2 million people. In the survey, less than 1% reported following a vegan diet.

Why do people choose to follow a vegetarian diet?

There are many reasons why people choose to be vegetarian including parental preferences, health reasons, religious or cultural beliefs as well as concern for animal rights and the environment.

 A healthy and balanced vegetarian diet

Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are nutritionally adequate across all life stages of the life cycle and can provide the nutrients we need.

Choosing a healthy balanced diet

Do remember that vegetarian options can also be high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, reducing your salt and free sugars intake, keeping your alcohol consumption within government guidelines, maintaining a healthy body weight and leading an active lifestyle are all important.

Suitable choices for vegetarians and vegans

  • Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Dairy and alternatives
  • Beans, pulses, eggs and other proteins
  • Oils and spreads


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