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Can Vegetarians Eat Eggs?

Whether you're already following a vegetarian diet or are considering starting one, it's normal to have questions about what exactly that entails. One question that often pops up for those exploring vegetarianism is 'can vegetarians eat eggs?'

The short answer to this question is yes, as a standard vegetarian diet only avoids animal flesh - meat or muscle. Still, this question cannot be summed up with a simple yes or no; otherwise, you wouldn't be here looking for answers within this grey area.

There's no other way to preface this blog than by saying that there will never be a definitive answer to whether vegetarians can eat eggs. However, the most important thing is that you have all the information possible to determine that answer for you.

Once you're through reading, you'll be able to create and follow through with a vegetarian regimen that aligns with your preferences, needs, and beliefs because that's all that matters. Thankfully, there are also several forms of vegetarianism that may help you provide further inspiration, guidance, and clarity.

Can vegetarians eat eggs? 

Can vegetarians eat eggs? This is a frequently asked question for those trying to find out what they can and cannot eat on a vegetarian diet.

Although some vegetarians are not comfortable eating any animal products, many are okay with consuming dairy, honey, and eggs!

Are eggs dairy?

Eggs are not a dairy product as they are not produced from milk.

Dairy products come from the milk of mammals such as cows and goats. In essence, dairy refers to milk and any food items produced from milk, such as cheese, butter, cream, and yogurt.

Birds, including hens, quail, and ducks, lay eggs, but they are not mammals and do not produce milk. So, while 99% of the time you will find eggs grouped in with other dairy products at the store, they are not dairy. Although, the jury may still be out on whether stores do this to confuse their customers intentionally or simply keep the eggs refrigerated.

Jokes aside, it could be that eggs are also high in protein, like most other dairy products. But the more likely answer as to why dairy and eggs are often grouped is that they are, in fact, animal products. And because they are animal products, some people do not consider eggs an acceptable food for a vegetarian diet.

Still, many vegetarians include eggs in their diet. Some limit their egg consumption, while others prefer to have zero egg restrictions. So, before we dive into the "who's who" in the vegetarianism population, it's important to understand why some vegetarians eat eggs.

Having a better grasp on the benefits of eggs and options for sources can help you decide if incorporating eggs in your diet is best for you.

Why do vegetarians eat eggs?

There are several reasons why eating eggs is acceptable and beneficial for vegetarian diets. Let's explore some of the most common ones below:

Nutrition and health considerations of eggs

Most eggs are low in saturated fat while high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals.

People who avoid eating meat may worry about not getting enough of these, especially protein, so they eat eggs. Not to mention, eggs are convenient and versatile, making it easy to get all these nutrients in a single serving.

A few nutrients found in eggs include:

  • Choline: helps maintain cell membrane structure, liver and nerve function and aids in brain development, especially for fetuses and infants.
  • Iron: needed for many vital functions like transporting oxygen throughout the body.
  • Vitamin A: a group of antioxidant compounds that is important for vision and bone growth.
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): serves as an antioxidant and helps convert food into energy for cell growth, metabolism, red blood cell development, and healthy nervous system functioning.
  • Vitamin D: helps maintain levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood for healthy bones and teeth, in addition to muscle function.
  • Vitamin E: an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage and plays a key role in maintaining heart health.
  • Selenium: an antioxidant mineral that helps prevent free radical damage to cells and supports healthy thyroid gland function, hair, and nails.
  • Vitamin B-12: essential for healthy nervous and immune system function and red blood cell formation to repair body tissue.

While several egg substitutes exist these days, one great way to replace eggs in recipes such as omelets or scrambled eggs is tofu. This vegan alternative contains about ten grams of protein per half-cup serving and is rich in iron and calcium.

Environmental and animal welfare considerations

Chickens can live six to ten years, producing eggs for human consumption. However, battery hens are typically slaughtered when their egg production drops after only one or two years.

If animal welfare is an important factor for you, you'll want to look only for eggs with the Certified Humane seal to ensure no animals have been mistreated; avoid labels that only say "cage-free." Some vegetarians consider eggs an acceptable food if they come from humanely raised chickens and hens - such as organic or local eggs.

While raising livestock and harvesting crops is certainly not morally equivalent, raising animals requires space and resources. It does make sense that some vegetarians eat eggs because the alternative of eating meat would increase their carbon footprint even more. Vegetarian options tend to be more environmentally friendly than meats; therefore, choosing eggs over chicken or beef is more sustainable.

Can you call yourself a vegetarian if you eat eggs?

No one can tell you whether you should eat eggs, just like nobody else can answer this question for you. But to help determine what kind of vegetarian you are or would like to be, there are several different types of vegetarians.

Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian

diets avoid meat, fish, and poultry but do include eggs and dairy products. The term "ovo" refers to eggs, while "lacto" refers to dairy products, so you could refine this even more if you choose to avoid meat and dairy or eggs.

Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian

diets typically contain some seafood or poultry but mostly plant foods with no restrictions on eggs or dairy.

Pescatarian

diets exclude all animal meat except fish. Some pescatarians consume eggs while others do not.

Vegan diets

avoid all animal and animal-derived products, which include dairy and eggs. So, can vegetarians eat eggs and still call themselves vegetarians? Yes. But if you want to cut out all animals products from your diet (and in some cases, your lifestyle), you would consider yourself vegan instead.

Eggs are so high in nutrients that many refer to them as "nature's multivitamin." Eggs provide essential nutrients which may be harder to obtain from non-meat sources; and some that the body cannot produce on its own (i.e., B12 and choline).

That said, your dietary choices need not be a matter of which should come first, the eggs or the ethics. There are always other sources for getting the nutrients you need.

If you're still feeling lost, one of the first things you should do is educate yourself as much as possible about nutrition. Not all vegetarian diets are created equal because not all humans are either. Listen to your body always, and pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. When you prioritize your health needs and values, the rest will fall into place.