If you’ve tried strict vegetarian diets and felt they were too strict, maybe it’s time to try something different and become a lacto-vegetarian, which offers much more than your typical veganism and vegetarianism.

Lacto-vegetarianism includes dairy and dairy products alongside the usual plant-based foods. In this article we take a close look at what is a lacto vegetarian, including what they eat and the benefits to you if you adopt this type of diet.

What is a Lacto-vegetarian?

The word Lacto means milk. So, Lacto-vegetarianism is a modification of traditional vegetarianism, which includes dairy and dairy products in the diet plan, such as milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, etc.

Moreover, a Lacto-vegetarian diet includes plant-based foods such as veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, peas, lentils, etc. However, no meat is included in a Lacto-vegetarianism diet as it is considered unethical and environmentally unsustainable.

Although vegetarianism has been around for centuries, Lacto-vegetarianism is a modern adaptation of the original concept first pioneered by the Scottish physician George Cheyne, who popularized a diet based on milk and vegetables to counter obesity.

What is the Difference Between Vegetarian and Lacto Vegetarian?

Vegetarianism is a broad concept that involves a plant-based diet having fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, etc. There is no room for meat-based products. Lacto-vegetarianism is a variation of the original concept, including milk and other dairy products.

However, it is not the only type of vegetarianism out there, others being pescetarianism, veganism, ovo-vegetarianism, pollotarianism, and flexitarianism.

So, a Lacto-vegetarian eats plant-based products and dairy products, but vegetarianism isn't restricted to it, as someone can be a strict vegan or a flexible pescetarian.

What do Lacto Vegetarians Eat?

Lacto-vegetarians eat all plant-based foods as well as dairy products. Meat, eggs, and their products are off the table for Lacto-vegetarians.

Before getting into Lacto-vegetarianism, many worry they might not be able to enjoy delicious meals again. However, we should dispel these fears by saying a Lacto-vegetarian diet is as delicious and nutritious as its alternatives. You can consume anything from milk to nuts and beans being a Lacto-vegetarian.

The nutritional requirements for protein are fulfilled through dairy and some plant-based protein options. However, some don't plan their diet properly, which can lead to a deficiency of nutrients like protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids.

Lacto-vegetarians can avoid these deficiencies by eating a well-balanced diet that provides them with all the essential and non-essential nutrients. Let's look at the usual list of foods that Lacto-vegetarians can access:

  • Fruits: pears, apples, strawberries, oranges, cherries, grapes, mangoes, plums, etc.
  • Fats: olive oil, butter, coconut oil
  • Non-meat proteins: vegetarian protein powder, milk, whey, tempeh, tofu, etc.
  • Vegetables: spinach, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, carrot, turnip, sweet potato, etc.
  • Nuts: chestnut, almond, cashew, hazelnut, peanut, walnut, etc.
  • Dairy: milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc.
  • Whole grains: millet, oats, buckwheat, barley, brown rice, etc.
  • Seeds: hemp seeds, chia, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Legumes: all kinds of lentils, beans, and peas.
  • Herbs & spices: herbs such as oregano, turmeric, pepper, cumin, etc.

Knowing the foods on your list is one thing; having the right nutrient information is another. Just eating a Lacto-vegetarian diet doesn't cut it, as you have to eat everything in the right proportion to avoid nutrient deficiency.

So, let us discuss some of the most important nutrients you should focus on, as Lacto-vegetarians sometimes do not consume them adequately.

Vitamin B-12

Being an essential vitamin for your cells, slacking on vitamin B-12 can be a costly mistake. The risks are even higher for vegetarians, as they do not get vitamin B-12 from animal products.

However, Lacto-vegetarians can overcome that gap by using dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, and butter.

Vitamin B-12 is crucial in forming and transporting red blood cells in your body. Its deficiency causes a reduction in red blood cells and deforms them. This deformation results in red blood cells not traveling through the bloodstream, resulting in a lack of oxygen in various organs, causing anemia.

Vitamin B-12 is also essential for healthy and safe pregnancies. Its deficiency can lead to neural tube defects, miscarriages, and premature births.

Vitamin B-12 prevents depression by lifting your mood. Those with a vitamin B-12 deficiency are two times more likely to develop severe depression. Vitamin B-12 comes from meat and other animal-based products such as eggs and dairy.

Let us look at some of the foods Lacto-vegetarians can eat to get the required vitamin B-12 amount:

  • Consuming dairy is amongst the most efficient ways of getting vitamin B-12. According to the Office of Dietary Statistics, 1 cup of low-fat milk has 1.2 micrograms of vitamin B-12. Eight ounces of low-fat yogurt have 1.1 micrograms of vitamin B-12. One ounce of Swiss cheese has 0.9 micrograms of vitamin B-12.
  • Fortified cereals are another excellent way to get vitamin B-12 with high bioavailability, which means it is easily digested. Always read the description on the box to determine whether it suits your needs or not.
  • Nutritional yeast is a food rich in vitamin B-12. Just one tablespoon of 100% fortified nutritional yeast can complete your daily value of 2.4 micrograms. It adds a nutty flavor to your food, so sprinkle it on your curries and sauces.

Protein

Protein is among the most important nutrients and performs multiple functions in the human body. If we do not consume adequate amounts, it results in tissue loss and muscle loss.

Your body needs protein because it is constantly undergoing the process of building and repairing tissues. Protein is important in recovering from exercise, injury, surgery, and the like.

Enzymes, which are also proteins, run many processes in our bodies, such as digestion, blood clotting, muscle contraction, etc. Without enzymes shooting properly, we face the prospect of diseases.

Protein also helps strengthen our immune system by forming antibodies to fight infections and diseases. If there is a lack of protein in your diet, bacteria and viruses will overwhelm you, and your defenses will be too weak to counter them.

Let us look at some of the best Lacto-vegetarian protein sources:

  • Lacto-vegetarians have a fantastic source of protein in dairy products. Milk has two forms of a protein called whey and casein. Milk has 80% whey and 20% casein protein.
  • Greek yogurt, plain yogurt, and white cottage cheese are all rich dairy protein sources for Lacto-vegetarians.
  • Lacto-vegetarians also get a decent amount of protein from a plant-based diet. Lentils, beans, nutritional yeast, etc., should be considered for adequate protein intake.
  • Similarly, hemp seeds, soy milk, nuts, chia seeds, wild rice, and oats are protein-rich vegetarian sources.

Iron

Without iron, it's impossible to transport oxygen to your brain and muscles. So, a deficiency can result in a lack of focus and stamina, causing fatigue and irritability.

Iron also produces red blood cells, which are crucial for carrying oxygen to organs. If there's a hindrance in that transport, athletic performance can be negatively affected.

Iron is also crucial for healthy pregnancies. The fetus gets its nutrients through the bloodstream, and if iron is deficient, the blood volume and red blood cells take a hit resulting in premature births, low weight, and other behavioral defects in infants.

Some excellent sources of iron for a Lacto-vegetarian diet are:

  • Soy and its derivatives, such as fortified soy drinks.
  • Nuts and seeds like peanuts, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, etc.
  • All kinds of lentils, peas, and beans.
  • Fortified grains

Zinc

Our body doesn't produce zinc, so we have to get it from food. The body requires it to run several important processes. It aids the activity of over 300 enzymes that perform various functions in your body, such as digestion, metabolism, etc.


It is also critical for the smooth functioning of the immune system. For instance, consuming 80-82mg of it cuts down the length of the common cold by 33%

Your skin has 5% of the total zinc content of your body, which is crucial for healing wounds from burns, ulcers, and the like.

Zinc also prevents chronic inflammation in your body, preventing several dangerous diseases such as cancer, heart problems, etc.

Here are some good Lacto-vegetarian zinc sources for you:

  • Peas, lentils, beans, etc
  • All types of seeds, nuts, and butter, such as peanut butter.
  • Fortified cereals
  • Whole grains
  • Soy and its products such as soy milk

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Your body makes most fats itself but can't make Omega-3 fats, so it must get them from the food you eat. omega-3 fats help your heartbeat at a steady pace and prevent arrhythmia. A proper intake of omega-3 fats has also been linked to reduced risk of prostate cancer and multiple other illnesses, for instance, mild hypertension.

Here are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids for Lacto-vegetarians:

  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Different types of oils such as soybean, canola, and flaxseed

What Foods Can't a Lacto Vegetarian Eat?

Vegetarians, in general, eat a plant-based diet and let go of meat. Lacto-vegetarians add dairy products to their menu and create a variety to fulfill nutritional needs. However, they still don't consume meat and meat-based products. Similarly, eggs and egg-based products are also off the table.

Is it Healthy to be a Lacto Vegetarian? Science-backed Evidence

Lacto-vegetarianism is associated with multiple health benefits. Let's look at some of them supported by solid science.

Heart Health

A Lacto-vegetarian diet has been linked to better cardiovascular health. Research suggests that people who consume a Lacto-vegetarian diet have much healthier cholesterol levels and body mass index (BMI). Both are beneficial for heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Similarly, another study revealed that a Lacto-vegetarian diet reduces LDL and bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease significantly.

Blood Pressure

Several studies have revealed that a Lacto-vegetarian diet regulates blood pressure. Alongside other health benefits, it also improves your heart health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular arrests.

Blood Sugar Control

Studies have suggested that eating a Lacto-vegetarian diet can help your body regulate its blood sugar levels, which reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Another study based on 156,000 people found that those who lived on a Lacto-vegetarian diet were 33% less likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes.

Weight Loss

Whether you want to maintain your weight or lose it, a Lacto-vegetarian diet can help you achieve your goals. Moreover, Lacto-vegetarians have a much lower risk of being obese because they consume fewer calories overall.

Vegetarians also consume more fiber, thanks to a higher fruit and vegetable intake, which helps with weight loss.

Cancer Prevention

Although the evidence for cancer prevention by a Lacto-vegetarian diet isn't overwhelming, there are some indications establishing this link. It has been suggested that switching from a mixed diet to a Lacto-vegetarian diet could prevent colon cancer.

Lacto Vegetarian Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Switching to a Lacto-vegetarian diet comes with several benefits. These include the marked improvement in cardiovascular health, diabetes prevention, cancer prevention, weight loss,and obesity control.
  • It is also established that Lacto-vegetarianism is as beneficial for the environment as strict veganism. So, if you're trying to cut down on dairy for environmental concerns, you don't have to, as vegan and Lacto-vegetarian diets have the same carbon footprint.
  • Since there are no meat and eggs in this diet, its impact on the environment is way lower than a meat-based and egg-based diet. Moreover, vegetarianism also counters animal cruelty as you bring down the demand for slaughtered animals.
Cons
  • Might Cause Nutrient Deficiency

    Vegetarian diets are the way to go if you want to be healthy. However, reaping their full benefits requires a balanced nutrient intake. For instance, vegetarians are at a much higher risk of having protein deficiency than meat-eaters.

    Similarly, eggs are also a great source of protein and vitamin A, and D. Ovo vegetarians can benefit from them, but Lacto vegetarians cannot. Moreover, it is now well-established that vegetarians are also at a risk of being deficient in vitamin B12.

    A deficiency of these important nutrients can cause several problems, which can be disastrous if not controlled.
  • Unsuitable for the Lactose Intolerant

    A Lacto-vegetarian diet limits your options to dairy and plants. However, lactose-intolerant people have even fewer choices as their bodies can't digest milk or milk-based products. For them, it is better to look for alternatives to dairy milk, such as almond milk and the like.
  • Might be Inconvenient

    Switching to a diet that is different from what most people eat will always be a little inconvenient. For instance, if you want to dine outside, you won't have as many options as a meat-eater, as many restaurants still do not excel in vegetarian meals.

    Similarly, you will have to be careful while purchasing any packaged food to avoid anything that doesn't fit your menu. Reading the ingredient list will become a necessary exercise to avoid ending up with animal products on your table.

What is a Lacto Vegetarian Meal Plan?

It is a wrong assumption that vegetarians do not get to enjoy delicious meals. You can enjoy delicious and nutritious Lacto-vegetarian meals if you play your cards right. And we will help you play them right by providing a detailed sample meal plan below.

Breakfast

Breakfast is traditionally considered the most important meal of the day because it starts your day. Here is what you can eat for a delicious Lacto-vegetarian breakfast:


You can have scrambled tofu with cheese served on a tortilla for a Mexican-inspired breakfast.

OR

Add your favorite berries or dry fruits to yogurt and sprinkle some cereal for crunch.

OR

Prepare a healthy oatmeal breakfast by mixing some oats in milk and stirring until it's creamy. Add some delicious topping such as maple syrup and raspberries.

Lunch

You must not lose your energy during the day, so here are some ideas for a healthy lunch:

Prepare an avocado sandwich by spreading it on bread and adding favorite toppings such as cheese, tomatoes, and vegetables.

OR

You can never go wrong with a healthy bowl of salad. So, prepare one by mixing up your favorite vegetables, fruits, beans, and cheese.

OR

Prepare a delicious chickpea curry with your favorite herbs and spices.

Dinner

Treat yourself to a yummy and light cabbage soup for the night by adding spices and vegetables.

OR

Make some tofu steaks and have them with your favorite veggies.

OR

Have a Spanish treat by making vegetable paella with your favorite salad.

Snacks

Luckily, there is no shortage of snacks in a Lacto-vegetarian diet. So, fuel yourself whenever you want with granola bars, fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, etc.

Conclusion

Vegetarianism has been adopted by millions globally, and the number is going up every day. Lacto-vegetarianism will only enhance this trend, giving people more freedom to take up a meatless diet. A plant-based diet no longer binds you as you can also consume your favorite dairy products.


Lacto-Vegetarianism offers a lot, such as environmental protection and varied health benefits. It is also an ethical route as it counters animal cruelty. Switching to a Lacto-vegetarian diet is easier than ever before, as supermarkets and the internet are both ready to serve you all the time with countless recipes.

About the Author Lillian

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