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Lacto-Vegetarian Diet: Benefits, Foods to Eat and Meal Plan

Health + Wellness
Yulia Lisitsa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people follow the lacto-vegetarian diet for its flexibility and health benefits.


Like other variations of vegetarianism, a lacto-vegetarian diet can help reduce your environmental impact (1Trusted Source).

However, you should take several factors into account to ensure your diet is healthy and balanced.

This article looks at the benefits and downsides of a lacto-vegetarian diet, in addition to providing a list of foods to eat and sample meal plan.

What is a Lacto-Vegetarian Diet?

The lacto-vegetarian diet is a variation of vegetarianism that excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

Unlike some other vegetarian diets, it includes certain dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese, and milk.

People often adopt a lacto-vegetarian diet for environmental or ethical reasons.

Some also choose to follow the diet for health reasons. In fact, reducing your intake of meat and other animal products may be associated with several health benefits (2Trusted Source).

Other common forms of vegetarianism include the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, ovo-vegetarian diet, and vegan diet.

Summary

The lacto-vegetarian diet is a type of vegetarianism that excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but includes dairy products. People may choose to adopt a lacto-vegetarian diet for environmental, ethical, or health reasons.

Benefits

Following a nutritious, well-rounded lacto-vegetarian diet can offer impressive health benefits.

Below are a few of the potential health benefits associated with this eating pattern.

Improves Heart Health

Multiple studies have found that lacto-vegetarian diets may improve heart health and decrease several common risk factors for heart disease.

A review of 11 studies found that vegetarian diets like the lacto-vegetarian diet may help lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, both of which can contribute to heart disease (3Trusted Source).

Several other studies have found that vegetarian diets may be linked to reduced blood pressure. This is beneficial, as high blood pressure is a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke (4Trusted Source).

Promotes Blood Sugar Control

Some research suggests that adopting a lacto-vegetarian diet could help enhance blood sugar control.

A review of 6 studies including 255 people linked vegetarian diets to significant reductions in hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c), a marker of long-term blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes (5Trusted Source).

Another review reported that following a vegetarian diet was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (6Trusted Source).

In addition, a study including more than 156,000 adults found that those who followed a lacto-vegetarian diet were 33% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared with those who followed non-vegetarian diets (7Trusted Source).

Supports Weight Loss

Adopting a lacto-vegetarian diet may not only be good for your health but also your waistline.

In fact, several studies have shown that vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who eat meat (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source).

Vegetarians also tend to consume fewer calories and more fiber than meat eaters. Both of these factors may be especially beneficial for weight loss (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).

A large review of 12 studies showed that people who followed a vegetarian diet for 18 weeks lost an average of 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than non-vegetarians (12Trusted Source).

May Reduce the Risk of Certain Cancers

Numerous observational studies have found that following a lacto-vegetarian diet may be associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer.

Notably, vegetarian diets have been linked to a 10–12% lower risk of developing cancer overall. They've likewise been linked to a reduced risk of specific types, including colorectal and breast cancer (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that these studies show an association, not a cause-effect relationship.

Further research is needed to evaluate whether following a lacto-vegetarian diet may help reduce your risk of cancer.

Summary

Studies show that following a balanced lacto-vegetarian diet may help improve heart health, promote blood sugar control, aid weight loss, and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.

Potential Downsides

A balanced lacto-vegetarian diet can supply all the nutrients your body needs.

However, without proper planning, it may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Meat, poultry, and seafood supply a range of important nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids (16Trusted Source, 17).

Eggs are also rich in many micronutrients, such as vitamins A and D (18Trusted Source).

A deficiency in these important nutrients can cause symptoms like stunted growth, anemia, impaired immune function, and mood changes (19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).

If you're following a lacto-vegetarian diet, make sure you're getting these nutrients from other food sources or supplements to meet your daily needs.

Filling your diet with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, milk products, and plant-based, protein-rich foods will help ensure you're getting the nutrients you need.

In some cases, a multivitamin or omega-3 supplement may also be necessary to help fill any gaps in your diet.

Summary

Following a lacto-vegetarian diet requires you to pay special attention to your nutrient intake. Using supplements and following a diet rich in whole foods can help you meet your daily needs and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Foods to Eat

A healthy lacto-vegetarian diet should include a variety of plant-based foods and dairy products.

Here are some foods you can enjoy as part of a lacto-vegetarian diet:

  • Fruits: apples, oranges, berries, melons, peaches, pears, bananas
  • Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, peppers, arugula
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas
  • Healthy fats: avocado, coconut oil, olive oil
  • Whole grains: barley, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, rice, amaranth
  • Dairy products: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter
  • Protein foods: tofu, tempeh, nutritional yeast, whey, vegetarian protein powder
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, nut butters
  • Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds
  • Herbs and spices: cumin, turmeric, basil, oregano, rosemary, pepper, thyme

Summary

A lacto-vegetarian diet can include a variety of different foods, including fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, dairy products, and protein-rich foods.

Foods to Avoid

A lacto-vegetarian diet does not include meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

Here are some of the foods you should avoid as part of a lacto-vegetarian diet:

  • Meat: beef, pork, veal, lamb, and processed meat products like bacon, sausage, deli meat, and beef jerky
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, goose, duck, quail
  • Seafood: salmon, shrimp, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, tuna
  • Eggs: includes whole eggs, egg whites, and egg yolks
  • Meat-based ingredients: gelatin, lard, suet, carmine

Summary

A lacto-vegetarian diet limits the consumption of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and meat-based ingredients.

Sample Meal Plan

Here is a five-day sample meal plan that you can use to get started on a lacto-vegetarian diet.

Monday

  • Breakfast: oatmeal with cinnamon and sliced banana
  • Lunch: veggie burger with sweet potato wedges and side salad
  • Dinner: bell peppers stuffed with quinoa, beans, and mixed veggies

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: yogurt topped with walnuts and mixed berries
  • Lunch: curried lentils with brown rice, ginger, garlic, and tomatoes
  • Dinner: stir-fry with peppers, green beans, carrots, and sesame-ginger tofu

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: smoothie with whey protein, veggies, fruit, and nut butter
  • Lunch: chickpea pot pie with a side of roasted carrots
  • Dinner: teriyaki tempeh with broccoli and couscous

Thursday

  • Breakfast: overnight oats with chia seeds, milk, and fresh fruit
  • Lunch: burrito bowl with black beans, rice, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and vegetables
  • Dinner: vegetarian chili with sour cream and a side salad

Friday

  • Breakfast: avocado toast with tomatoes and feta cheese
  • Lunch: lentil-baked ziti with roasted asparagus
  • Dinner: falafel wrap with tahini, tomatoes, parsley, onions, and lettuce

Lacto-Vegetarian Snack Ideas

Here are a few healthy snacks you can include on a lacto-vegetarian diet:

  • carrots and hummus
  • sliced apples with nut butter
  • kale chips
  • cheese and crackers
  • mixed fruit with cottage cheese
  • roasted edamame
  • yogurt with berries
  • trail mix with dark chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit

Summary

The five-day sample menu above provides some meal and snack ideas you can enjoy as part of a lacto-vegetarian diet. You can adjust any of them to fit your personal tastes and preferences.

The Bottom Line

The lacto-vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but includes dairy products.

It may be associated with numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of cancer, increased weight loss, and improved blood sugar control and heart health.

Yet, be sure to fill up on nutrient-dense, whole foods to meet your nutritional needs.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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