Ovovegetarianism is a subcategory of vegetarianism. Ovovegetarians, who are sometimes called “eggetarians,” are people who consume a plant-based diet with the addition of eggs. The ovo- part of the name comes from the Latin word for egg. Ovovegetarians do not eat red meat, poultry, fish, or milk or milk-based products (cheese, yogurt, ice cream).
Vegetarianism in general has existed for thousands of years, although anatomical and archaeological evidence indicates that prehistoric humans were not vegetarians. The pattern of human dentition (teeth adapted for tearing meat as well as grinding plant matter), the length of the human digestive tract, and the secretion of pepsin (an enzyme that is necessary for digesting meat) by the human stomach are all indications that humans evolved as omnivores, or animals that consume both plant and animal matter.
Religious faith is the oldest known motive for consuming a vegetarian diet. Hinduism is the earliest of the world's major religions known to have encouraged a vegetarian lifestyle. The Hindu religion does not endorse ovovegetarianism, however, as strict Hindus avoid additional foods, including eggs.
Some ovovegetarians insist on purchasing eggs only from small farmers who raise free-range chickens, because they believe that the factory farming of eggs is inhumane. Some factory farms contain as many as 100,000 chickens, which are raised in poor conditions and killed when their egg-laying capacity starts to decline. In addition, all male chicks of egg-laying breeds are killed between one and three days after birth, as they are not suitable for meat production. Free-range chickens, on the other hand, are often kept as pets by small farmers and allowed to run outside, build nests, and scratch in the dirt; they are not killed automatically when they reach a certain age.
Vegetarian diets in general and ovovegetarian diets in particular are adopted by people in developed countries primarily for ethical or religious reasons rather than economic necessity. There is also a growing perception that plant-based diets serve as a form of preventive health care for people at increased risk of such diseases as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. They may also be more sustainable (in terms of environmental impact) than meat-based diets.
The benefits of an ovovegetarian diet include those of vegetarian diets in general, namely lowered blood pressure, lower rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke, lower blood cholesterol levels, and lowered risks of colon and prostate cancer. There is also evidence that vegetarian diets lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and assist in weight reduction. However, studies have found that vegetarians are more likely to engage in other healthy habits, such as exercising regularly and not smoking, so it is not known how much of these benefits are attributable to diet alone.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics strongly recommends that people consult a registered dietitian (RD) as well as their primary physician before starting any type of vegetarian diet. Meat provides many important nutrients, and an RD can help suggest alternatives. Egg whites provide a good source of protein. Egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but saturated fat intake—not cholesterol—has been found to be the primary predictor of blood cholesterol levels in most people. People concerned about their cholesterol levels or at risk for high cholesterol may wish to limit their consumption of egg yolks.
The primary concern for all vegetarian diets is the risk of nutritional deficiencies, particularly of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. The inclusion of eggs in ovovegetarian diets helps provide needed protein and vitamin D, as well as choline. People should not start taking dietary supplements without first talking to their doctor or RD.
Ovovegetarians should avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs due to the danger of contamination by Salmonella enteritidis and other Salmonella species associated with food poisoning. The shell of a chicken egg ordinarily acts as a barrier against bacterial contamination, but improper handling or an active infection in the hen producing the egg may allow Salmonella and other disease organisms to enter. Eggs should be thoroughly cooked, and containers or cutting boards that have held raw eggs should not come into contact with other foods. This precaution is especially important for people with weakened immune systems or who are taking drugs that suppress the immune system.
Vegetarianism, including ovovegetarianism, is accepted by all mainstream medical associations and professional registered dietitians' societies. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases… Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.”
See also Ovolactovegetarianism .
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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, email@example.com, http://www.eatright.org .
Dietitians of Canada, 480 University Ave., Ste. 604, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5G 1V2, (416) 596-0857, Fax: (416) 596-0603, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.dietitians.ca .
Egg Nutrition Center, PO Box 738, Park Ridge, IL, 60068, (847) 296-7055, Fax: (847) 768-7973, http://www.eggnutritioncenter.org .
North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS), PO Box 72, Dolgeville, NY, 13329, (518) 568-7970, http://www.navs-online.org .
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD