In general, the term vegetarian refers to someone who doesn’t eat certain animal products.

Almost all vegetarians avoid meat, but you may wonder whether they eat eggs.

This article explores whether vegetarians eat eggs and the possible reasons behind this choice.

Are eggs vegetarian?

A vegetarian diet is often defined as avoiding animal flesh, including meat and muscle.

Therefore, many vegetarians eat eggs even if they exclude beef, poultry, and fish in their diets (1).

Still, some people don’t consider eggs a vegetarian-friendly food. If an egg was fertilized as a result of a hen and rooster mating, thus giving it a chance to become a chicken, vegetarians who are opposed to eating animals may avoid eggs.

Contrarily, if an egg was not fertilized and never going to become an animal, it would be considered vegetarian and thought of as an animal byproduct along with milk and butter.

Most commercially produced eggs at the grocery store are unfertilized.

Finally, some religions that encourage vegetarian eating, such as Hinduism and Jainism, may not view eggs as strictly vegetarian and therefore prohibit them (2).

Summary

Since they are not technically animal flesh, eggs are usually thought of as vegetarian. Eggs that have been fertilized and therefore have the potential to become an animal may not be considered vegetarian.

Nutritional considerations

In addition to ethical or religious concerns, nutritional considerations may guide the decision to eat eggs on a vegetarian diet.

Eggs are an extremely nutritious food, with over 6 grams of high quality protein, as well as several vitamins and minerals, in one large egg. In fact, egg yolks remain one of the best sources of choline, an essential nutrient required for normal bodily function and health (3, 4).

Some vegetarians may choose to include eggs in their diet as a source of essential nutrients or to simply add more variety to their choices of protein-rich foods, especially if they avoid meat and fish.

On the other hand, eggs are sometimes viewed as unhealthy due to their high cholesterol content.

While research is mixed, some studies have linked cholesterol intake to increased blood cholesterol levels. However, studies have also reported that dietary cholesterol was not statistically significant in relation to the risk of heart disease (5).

One review of studies found that eating eggs did not raise cholesterol in close to 70% of individuals but led to mild increases in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in those who respond more strongly to dietary cholesterol (6).

Conflicting research over the years may lead some vegetarians to avoid eggs, while others may embrace them as part of their diet.

Summary

Some vegetarians eat or avoid eggs due to their nutritional content. Eggs are high in protein and micronutrients but also cholesterol, which some studies have linked to increased cholesterol levels — though not necessarily a higher heart disease risk.

What types of vegetarians eat eggs?

Vegetarians who eat eggs are still considered vegetarians but have a different name.

Below are the different labels for vegetarians based on whether they consume eggs and/or dairy (1):

  • Lacto-vegetarian: avoids eggs, meat, and fish but includes dairy
  • Ovo-vegetarian: avoids meat, fish, and dairy but includes eggs
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: avoids meat and fish but includes eggs and dairy
  • Vegan: avoids all animal and animal-derived products, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and often other items, such as honey

As you can see, vegetarians who eat eggs are considered ovo-vegetarians or lacto-ovo vegetarians depending on whether they eat dairy.

Summary

Vegetarians are still considered as such if they eat eggs, but they’re referred to by a different name than vegetarians who avoid eggs.

The bottom line

Many vegetarians eat eggs even if they exclude animal flesh and fish from their diet.

Those who eat eggs and dairy are known as lacto-ovo vegetarians, while those who eat eggs but no dairy are ovo-vegetarians.

However, depending on ethical, religious, or health reasons, some vegetarians may avoid eggs.