From Vegan to Flexitarian: Find Your Alpha-Gal Friendly Diet

Two people in a kitchen, one holding a paper bag filled with vegetables and the other holding a bell pepper. Various vegetables are on the countertop.

You might be surprised that vegetarianism is not a one-size-fits-all diet. From vegan to semi-vegetarian, there are several types of vegetarians. Use this guide to find the vegetarian version that’s right for you and your alpha-gal syndrome diagnosis.

The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.

Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions, making any adjustments needed, and directing any questions to your physician.

Vegetarianism is a diet that typically involves abstaining from meat, fish, and poultry. There are different types of vegetarians, each with unique dietary restrictions. For instance, some vegetarians consume dairy products and eggs, while others do not.

Vegetarianism is often associated with ethical and environmental concerns. Many people become vegetarians because they do not want to contribute to animals’ suffering or the meat industry’s ecological impact. However, many alpha gals are forced to adopt some type of vegetarian diet overnight for health reasons after being diagnosed with a mammalian meat allergy.

Adopting a vegetarian diet doesn’t automatically mean it is healthy. A vegetarian diet of highly processed foods (yes, I’m looking at you, mock meat products with ingredients I cannot pronounce) that are low in nutrients is not very healthy. However, vegetarianism can be a beneficial way to adjust to your new normal with alpha-gal syndrome, provided your diet is balanced and provides all of the nutrients you need.

A variety of vegetarian dishes including grains, vegetables, and legumes are presented next to a sign that reads "7 Types of Vegetarians" on a white surface.

    

In This Article

Types of Vegetarians

From vegan to flexitarian, there are many types of vegetarians. Here are the main varieties.

Vegan

A vegan diet is the strictest form of vegetarianism, allowing only plant-based foods. Vegans do not consume any animal-derived products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Due to sensitivities to what farmers feed their hens, cross-contamination during food processing, and other issues, some highly-sensitive alpha gals adopt a vegan diet to prevent reactions.

Lacto-Vegetarian

This type of vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, or egg products. However, they do consume dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. This is a good fit for alpha gals who don’t particularly love meat and are not sensitive to dairy. Lacto-vegetarian diets are popular in India and other parts of Asia.

Ovo Vegetarian

An ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, or dairy products but does consume eggs. Because eggs do not contain alpha gal, this type of vegetarianism is a good option for nearly all alpha gals, especially those who are sensitive to dairy products.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian

A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat meat or fish but consumes dairy products and eggs. This is the most common type of vegetarianism in the Western world and is a good fit for alpha gals who do not need to avoid dairy products.

Pollotarian

A pollotarian, or chickitarian as we call it at my house, adheres to a diet that excludes red meat and pork but includes poultry such as chicken, turkey, emu, and ostrich. 

Pescatarian

A pescatarian does not eat meat but does consume fish and seafood. A pescatarian diet is a good fit for alpha gals who want protein and nutrients from marine sources.

Pollo-Pescatarian

A pollo-pescatarian combines the principles of both pollotarian and pescetarian diets. This type of vegetarian diet excludes mammalian meat like beef and pork but includes poultry, fish, and seafood. This hybrid diet is the least restrictive option for alpha gals. Just be sure to select vegetarian cheeses or substitute plant-based dairy if you react to milk products.

Flexitarian

A flexitarian is someone who largely follows a vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat (including mammalian meats that are off-limits for alpha gals) or fish. This type of diet is also known as semi-vegetarian. As long as you are not “flexing” with mammalian meat (like beef, pork, or lamb) and only eat alpha-gal friendly meat (like chicken, turkey, and ostrich), this is a great fit for most alpha gal diets. (Then again, once you make that modification, you’re essentially following a pollo-pescatarian diet.)

An infographic detailing types of vegetarians, ranging from vegan (most restrictive) to pollo-pescatarian (least restrictive), showing what each diet includes and excludes, with example foods and illustrations.

Vegetarian Diets and Nutrition

All flavors of vegetarian diets can provide the nutrients you need for a healthy lifestyle. However, it is important to monitor your meals carefully. When you’re suddenly forced to abandon beef, pork, lamb, and dairy products — all while your head is reeling from an alpha-gal diagnosis — you’ll want to be sure you’re getting plenty of protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12 from plant-based or alpha-gal friendly animal sources. Fortunately, you have several options.

Vegetarian Protein Sources

Protein

When I was first diagnosed with alpha-gal syndrome, I was so overwhelmed with the diagnosis and making food choices that didn’t make me sick that I ended up with a severe protein deficiency. As it turns out, almond milk has next to no protein, unlike my beloved skim milk. 

Thankfully, my doctor helped me turn things around, and I now count grams of protein every day to ensure I get enough. Some of my favorite plant-based options are beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and plant-based protein powder. Like many alpha gals, I get soooooo sick of eating chicken — and I didn’t eat a lot of it before my diagnosis — but I do enjoy alpha-gal friendly animal proteins like fish and seafood.

Iron

Iron is essential for producing red blood cells and keeping your energy levels up. Vegetarians can add iron to their diets by eating leafy greens (like spinach and kale), whole grains (such as quinoa and oats), and legumes (like lentils and chickpeas). Pairing these foods with vitamin C-rich ingredients like strawberries or citrus fruits can help enhance iron absorption.

A woman in a blue dress smiles while eating a bowl of salad in a bright kitchen with wooden countertops.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Calcium

Calcium is crucial for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Good vegetarian sources of calcium include fortified foods like plant milks (like almond, soy, and oat milk), leafy green vegetables (like broccoli and bok choy), tofu made with calcium sulfate, and almonds. If you’re avoiding dairy, these foods can help you meet your calcium needs.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is vital for nerve function and red blood cell production. Since it is found in meat, dairy, and eggs and has no reliable plant sources, some vegetarians need to take a B12 supplement—especially if they follow a vegan diet. My favorite option is wholier, a plant-based multivitamin. As an added bonus, it’s also an alpha-gal safe source of Vitamin D3, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, omega-3, and Vitamin K2.

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06/17/2024 01:50 pm GMT

Vegetarianism Around the World

Vegetarianism is a dietary choice that is becoming increasingly popular around the world. In fact, a recent study revealed that 1.5 billion people worldwide (about 18% of the global population) don’t eat meat. Here are some countries with a high concentration of vegetarians and vegans.

A variety of Indian dishes on a wooden table, including curries, rice, flatbread, lentils, salads, and sauces.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

India

According to World Atlas, India has more vegetarians per capita than any other country in the world, with 38% of the population embracing a vegetarian lifestyle. Many Indians follow a lacto-vegetarian diet that excludes meat, fish, and eggs but includes dairy.

Thailand

According to Statista, vegetarianism is on the rise in Thailand, with approximately 15% of the population following a meatless diet by the end of next year. Thai Buddhist cuisine, known as “jay” food, features an assortment of flavorful tofu, vegetables, and mock meat dishes.

A bowl of cooked pearl couscous mixed with vegetables, garnished with herbs, and served with three pieces of toasted bread. A bottle of olive oil and a bowl of raw pearl couscous are in the background.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

Italy

In Europe, 10% of Italians follow a vegetarian diet. An area that is especially vegetarian-friendly is Sardinia, one of the world’s five Blue Zones, where many residents live to be 100 years old. Sardinians eat a plant-forward diet of beans, homegrown vegetables, whole-grain bread, and seasonal fruits.

Turkey

A growing number of Turks are adopting flexitarianism, balancing plant-based meals with occasional meat consumption to explore diverse flavors while reducing their environmental footprint.

A person in a blue shirt holds a small green plant with soil in their hands.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

Environmental Impact of Vegetarianism

Vegetarians often tout their lifestyle as being more environmentally friendly than a meat-based diet. This is because meat production, especially from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), is associated with significant greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and water use. Here are some of the ways that reducing or eliminating animal-based foods from your diet can have a positive impact on the environment.

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined. This is due to the methane livestock produces and the energy required to produce and transport animal feed. According to this study published by the National Library of Medicine, adopting a lacto-ovo diet or vegan lifestyle can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 35% to 50%, respectively.

Reduced Water Consumption

Animal agriculture is also a major consumer of freshwater resources. It takes an estimated 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, compared to just 39 gallons for a pound of vegetables. By reducing meat consumption, vegetarians can help conserve water resources.

Less Pollution

CAFOs are associated with significant water and air pollution as well as soil degradation. By reducing the demand for meat, vegetarians can help reduce the environmental impact of these operations.

It is important to note that not all vegetarian diets are created equal in terms of their environmental impact. For example, a vegetarian diet relying heavily on processed foods and imported produce may have a higher carbon footprint than a meat-based diet emphasizing locally sourced, seasonal produce.

Finding the Right Type of Vegetarian Diet for You

Whether you choose a vegan diet that avoids all animal products, a semi-vegetarian diet that includes alpha-gal friendly animal proteins, or something in between, you’re sure to find an alpha-gal friendly diet that works for you. By understanding the different types of vegetarian diets and your alpha-gal sensitivity, you can make an informed choice about your health and well-being.

Do You Follow a Vegetarian Diet?

Are you currently following one of these vegetarian diets? If so, which one? How did you choose that type of vegetarianism? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

Thank you for sharing!

7 thoughts on “From Vegan to Flexitarian: Find Your Alpha-Gal Friendly Diet”

  1. Great information! I had never heard of the pollo-pescatarian type diet, which I think is what I mostly follow. Now I have a new term besides flexitarian.

    1. Isn’t it a clever way of tying the diet up with a bow? Most alpha gals I know follow a pollo-pescatarian diet, adding or omitting dairy as their personal sensitivities dictate.

  2. This was such great information! When I went to culinary school, I learned about the different types of vegetarian and it still confuses me. It is nice that you have it all written out for when I need a quick reference.

    1. When a tick bite forces you to adopt a vegetarian (sometimes vegan) diet overnight, you have to know what’s what and not be confused. LOL! I’m comforted knowing that you study vegetarian diets in culinary school. When I do eat out, I try to go to locally-owned, scratch kitchen places so I can chat with the chef if needed to ensure my meal is safe.

  3. Who knew there were so many variations of vegetarianism? Very informative and interesting read! I love the term chickitarian 🙂

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