An increasing number of people around the world follow vegetarian diets for a variety of health, environmental, financial, and religious reasons.
There are several different types of vegetarianism, including the ovo-vegetarian diet.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the ovo-vegetarian diet and provides a sample menu.
An ovo-vegetarian diet excludes all animal-based foods except for eggs.
Meat, poultry, fish, or dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are eliminated, but whole eggs, egg whites, and egg-containing foods like mayonnaise, egg noodles, and certain baked goods are permitted.
Ovo-vegetarian diets are somewhat less popular than vegan diets, which exclude all animal-derived foods and byproducts completely, as well as lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets, which include dairy products and eggs but not meat, poultry, or fish.
Well-planned vegetarian diets of any kind tend to be nutritious and very healthy. Still, there are several reasons why someone may choose an ovo-vegetarian diet over other types.
Whole eggs are both affordable and nutritious, making them a great addition to almost any diet. They serve as an excellent source of high-quality protein, B vitamins, and anti-inflammatory compounds (1).
In fact, some people choose to include eggs in an otherwise animal-free diet if they have difficulty meeting their nutrient needs on a strictly vegan diet.
An ovo-vegetarian diet would also be an appropriate choice for someone who wants to be a vegetarian but has allergies or sensitivities to dairy products.
Furthermore, others may choose the diet because of religious, environmental, or ethical concerns about the treatment of animals used to produce meat and dairy.
Those who are motivated by these ethical issues often make sure to only eat humanely sourced eggs and egg products.
Summary Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude all animal products except for eggs. People may choose this dietary pattern for health, environmental, religious, or ethical reasons.
An ovo-vegetarian diet may benefit your health in various ways.
May contribute to improved diet quality
Many experts think that this may be the reason why vegetarians typically have better health outcomes than non-vegetarians, but more research is needed before a clear cause-and-effect relationship can be established (3).
Good for your heart
If you’re looking to make dietary changes that benefit your heart, an ovo-vegetarian diet could be effective.
Multiple studies observe that vegetarians may have a 30–40% reduced risk of heart disease, compared to non-vegetarians (4).
What’s more, when paired with regular exercise and stress management practices, vegetarian diets have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as reverse the accumulation of plaque within blood vessels (4).
Promotes balanced blood sugar
Well-planned vegetarian diets may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.
A recent review of 14 studies found that vegetarians are approximately 25% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, compared to non-vegetarians (5).
The typically higher intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables of those on vegetarian diets seems to play a significant role in diabetes prevention.
More specifically, foods like dark leafy greens and root vegetables that are high in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and magnesium may have the strongest preventive effects (5).
Vegetarian diets are associated with several other health and lifestyle benefits, including:
- Weight loss. Vegetarian diets are often lower in calories and may promote weight loss more effectively than omnivorous diets (2, 6).
- Support gut health. Vegetarian diets are rich in fiber and health-promoting plant compounds that can increase the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which leads to better digestive function and improved immunity (7, 8).
- May reduce cancer risk. Some studies indicate that vegetarian diets may reduce cancer risk by up to 12%, though more research is needed (9).
- More affordable. High-quality meat and dairy products can be rather expensive. Thus, vegetarian diets may be more affordable.
Though vegetarian diets have many positive attributes, it’s important to remember that no specific result is guaranteed.
Summary An ovo-vegetarian diet may offer many health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It may also improve gut health and promote a healthy weight.
For most people, an ovo-vegetarian diet is very safe and healthy. However, you may fall short of obtaining certain essential nutrients if you don’t plan your diet well.
Insufficient protein intake
Eating enough protein is essential for maintaining healthy bones, muscles, organs, skin, and hair.
Many non-vegetarian diets rely on meat and dairy products for protein. As an ovo-vegetarian diet excludes these foods, you need to ensure that you’re getting protein elsewhere.
Eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all great protein options that are ovo-vegetarian friendly.
Vitamins, minerals, and omega-3s
Meat, fish, and dairy products are often a major source of these nutrients in non-vegetarian diets. Therefore, removing them may lead to deficiencies if you’re not careful to replace them with vegetarian alternatives.
Here are a few foods that can provide these nutrients as you transition to an ovo-vegetarian diet:
- Iron. Including eggs and plant-based sources of iron like lentils, soybeans, garbanzo beans, brown rice, iron-fortified cereals, dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, and pistachios is a smart way to meet your iron needs (11).
- Calcium. Regularly include foods like white beans, turnip greens, arugula, bok choy, tofu, and calcium-fortified foods in your diet to ensure adequate calcium intake (12).
- Vitamin D. Spending time in the sun is the best way to encourage vitamin D production in your skin. Eggs from pasture-raised chickens, fortified foods, and mushrooms treated with UV light are also good sources (13, 14, 15).
- Vitamin B12. Eggs are a good source of vitamin B12. The same holds true for fortified foods like milk substitutes or nutritional yeast (16).
- Zinc. Whole grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all good sources of zinc that are ovo-vegetarian friendly (17).
- Omega-3 fats. Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, and walnuts are great plant-based sources of omega-3 fats. Additionally, eggs from hens that are fed omega-3-enriched feed can provide these healthy fats (18).
If you find that you’re unable to meet your needs for any of these nutrients through diet alone, consult your healthcare provider or a dietitian about taking supplements.
Vegetarian junk foods
Not all ovo-vegetarian-friendly foods are healthy.
Dairy-free pastries, fried foods, processed vegetarian meat substitutes, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages, cereals, and candies, technically fit an ovo-vegetarian lifestyle but should be consumed sparingly, if at all.
A healthy vegetarian diet emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods and limits refined grains, added sugars, heavily refined oils, and other ultra-processed junk foods.
Summary Vegetarian diets may be low in certain nutrients, potentially putting you at risk of deficiencies. Focus on planning a nutritionally complete diet that can meet your needs with plant-based sources of these nutrients.
Though certain foods are restricted on an ovo-vegetarian diet, you have plenty of nutrient-dense options from which to choose.
A well-planned ovo-vegetarian diet is ideally comprised of a variety of whole, plant-based foods, such as:
- Fruit: apples, oranges, pears, berries, bananas, pineapple, mango, grapes, avocado
- Vegetables: leafy greens, carrots, potatoes, asparagus, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, radishes, bell peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, summer and winter squash
- Grains: rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, barley, oatmeal, pasta, crackers, popcorn, cereals, bread (made without milk or butter)
- Legumes: soybeans, tempeh, tofu, miso, lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, peas, peanuts, pinto beans, navy beans
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, nut butters, flax seeds
- Eggs and egg products: whole eggs, egg whites
- Dairy substitutes: soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, dairy-free yogurt, dairy-free cheeses
- Oils: olive, avocado, walnut, flaxseed, and coconut oils
- Beverages: coffee, tea, water, mineral water, non-dairy milks
Keep in mind that just because a food is vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s healthy. To reap the health benefits of an ovo-vegetarian diet, it’s important to focus on whole, minimally processed foods as much as possible.
Summary Various foods, such as legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, and fruits, make up a healthy ovo-vegetarian diet. Practice moderation if you’re including ultra-processed foods.
The main foods to avoid on an ovo-vegetarian diet are meats and dairy products, but certain meat-based food additives should be excluded as well.
If you’re transitioning to an ovo-vegetarian diet, avoid the following:
- Red meat: beef, lamb, pork
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck
- Fish and shellfish
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, cheese, butter
- Baked goods: breads and pastries made with milk or butter
- Meat- and dairy-derived food additives: gelatin, lard, carmine, casein, whey
- Other items: animal-based broths, pâté, fish sauce, certain omega-3 supplements, non-dairy creamer, Caesar dressing
You may find vegetarian alternatives for many of these foods. Still, keep in mind that these substitutes may not always be nutritionally equivalent.
For example, most dairy-free milk alternatives don’t provide the same amounts of protein and minerals as regular cow’s milk. This doesn’t make them a bad option per se, but it’s worth considering if your goal is to build a nutritionally complete vegetarian diet.
Summary Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude all meat, dairy, and meat- and dairy-based condiments and food additives.
Though nutritional needs and dietary preferences may vary, here’s an example of what five days on an ovo-vegetarian diet may look like.
- Breakfast: coconut-chia pudding with frozen berries and walnuts
- Lunch: lentil vegetable stew with flax crackers
- Dinner: tofu-vegetable stir fry with brown rice
- Breakfast: whole-grain toast with braised greens and poached eggs
- Lunch: hummus-and-vegetable sandwich wrap with a side of berries
- Dinner: quinoa bowl with black beans, nutritional yeast, mixed greens, guacamole, and salsa
- Breakfast: green smoothie made with spinach, hemp protein powder, cashew milk, almond butter, bananas, ginger, and avocado
- Lunch: egg-salad sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Dinner: spicy peanut noodles with edamame, purple cabbage, and cilantro
- Breakfast: oatmeal with fresh fruit, hemp seeds, and slivered almonds
- Lunch: leftover peanut noodles
- Dinner: smoky tempeh with roasted vegetables and vegetarian mushroom risotto
- Breakfast: egg-and-vegetable scramble with a side of fresh fruit
- Lunch: white bean, kale, and tomato soup with whole-grain toast
- Dinner: cauliflower-and-chickpea tacos with cilantro-lime cashew cream sauce
Summary The above sample meal plan showcases some of the healthy ingredients and balanced dishes you can enjoy on a well-rounded ovo-vegetarian diet.
The ovo-vegetarian diet is a type of vegetarianism that excludes all animal products except for eggs.
As long as it’s well planned, this way of eating can provide all the nutrients your body needs and may offer various benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.
If you plan to transition to an ovo-vegetarian diet, be sure to include a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits to ensure you’re getting the most out of your diet.