Classes and Types of
There are two broad classes of vegetarians:
Now lets cut this a different way into types:
Information in this article is based on many publicly available sources. Please refer to our Medical Disclaimer
Today the vegetarian diet and protein requirements are much better understood and a whole lot less scary than when I started my vegetarian phase, but even back then I had no health problems from it. Of course I wasn't a vegan, and I solved the social problems by simply adhering to Thai Buddhist conventions, allowing me to eat whatever I was served (provided it wasn't prepared specifically for me) outside of home. Records show that people who opt for a vegetarian diet hold to it an average of about 8 years - I probably did a little less than that.
Here in California there are now so many ovo-lacto vegetarians people are used to them and the social problems are much reduced from what they once were. Of course, vegans are still considered pretty unsufferable by most folks.
Protein: When I started my vegetarian phase the protein thing was scary. It looked very difficult to assure the U.S. recommended minimum. Turned out this "minimum" was so high it was dangerous (encouraged by the meat and dairy industries) and was soon reduced. It's probably still well above any real minimum.
The only real protein deficiency problem normal vegetarians face is with a severely unbalanced protein supply. Vegetable sources are incomplete (soy is one of the most complete but it apparently has other serious problems). Fortunately beans and grains nicely complement each other's deficiencies.
Earlier books on vegetarian nutrition say you had to balance your protein at each meal, but current thinking is that you have at least 24 hours and probably a lot longer to balance out. The "protein combining" theory was popularized by the first edition of Frances Moore Lappé's book Diet for a Small Planet, but has never been supported by properly interpreted data, and was withdrawn from later editions.
Vegans: Of all the classes and types of vegetarians who are actually getting enough food, only strict vegetarians and vegans (and the frutarian subset) face serious deficiency problems, particularlly with vitamin B12. For details read our Vegan Diet page.
Fruitarians: Persons on this extreme version of the vegan diet are just as at risk from vitamin B12 deficiency as regular Vegans. The fruitarian diet is considered quite risky for teens, and has proven it can be deadly for infants. Some adults seem to get along OK though.
Unfortunately long term risk data is very sparce. One notable occurance was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who spent a lot of time on a fruitarian diet. It is known that the fruitarian diet can seriously disrupt pancreatic function, which can put people in the hospital. This happened to Ashton Kutcher, who used the diet while preparing to play Steve Jobs in the film jOBS. It is suspected, but not yet proven, that this stress can result in a particular variety of pancreatic cancer, the kind that Steve Jobs died of.Links