If you're a new vegetarian, or just thinking about going vegetarian, you may have come across the term "lacto-vegetarian." Here's what you need to know about this type of vegetarian diet.
What Does Lacto-Vegetarian Mean?
Lacto-vegetarian is a term sometimes used to describe a vegetarian who does not eat eggs, but does eat dairy products. In other words, a lacto-vegetarian diet includes all plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains and beans, as well as dairy products such as milk, cheese, butter, goat cheese, goat's milk and any other products made from these foods such as ice cream.
In other words, a lacto-vegetarian is a diet which is "vegan plus dairy."
A lacto vegetarian diet would include foods such as vegetarian cheese pizza, bean and cheese burritos, vegetable curries, grilled cheese sandwiches, for example, while excluding scrambled eggs, omelets, and other foods containing eggs such as mayonnaise, egg noodles, egg whites and meringue.
Most people, in everyday conversation, don't differentiate what type of vegetarian they are. It's more common, at least in the United States, for someone who follows a lacto-vegetarian diet to say "I'm vegetarian and I don't eat eggs," or "I eat mostly vegan with some milk and cheese".
The vast majority of Hindus who follow a vegetarian diet are actually lacto-vegetarians (as opposed to lacto-ovo vegetarians) who avoid eggs for religious reasons while continuing to eat dairy. In fact, in India, vegetarianism itself is defined as lacto-vegetarianism, since eggs are considered to be a non-vegetarian food. In the United States and in most other western countries, though there may be some small debates and many misunderstandings, vegetarianism is defined as laco-ovo-vegetarianism, and includes both eggs and dairy products.
Buddhists and Jains who are vegetarian for religious reasons are usually lacto-vegetarians, and many (though certainly not all) of the spiritual, new-age and meditation communities in the west which espouse Buddhist and Hindu values often follow this tradition and adhere to a lacto-vegetarian diet.
Bonus fact: The prefix "lacto" comes from the Latin word for milk.