Beth Naylor, MS, RD
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A Vegetarian Dietary Pattern as a Nutrient-Dense Approach to Weight Management: An Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2004

Bonnie Farmer, MS, RD; Brian T. Larson, PhD; Victor L. Fulgoni III, PhD; Alice J. Rainville, PhD, RD;  George U. Liepa, PhD
Journal of the American Dietetic Association; Volume 111, Issue 6 , Pages 819-827, June 2011

B. Farmer is principal member, PlantWise Nutrition Consulting, LLC, Plainwell, MI; at the time of the study, she was a graduate student, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI.

B. T. Larson is vice president, research and development, JG Consulting Services, LLC, Dowling, MI; at time of the study, he was a senior nutrition scientist, Kellogg Company, Battle Creek, MI.

V. L. Fulgoni is senior vice president, Nutrition Impact, LLC, Battle Creek, MI.

A. J. Rainville is professor of nutrition and dietetics, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.

G. U. Liepa is professor of nutrition and dietetics, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.



Population-based studies have shown that vegetarians have lower body mass index than nonvegetarians, suggesting that vegetarian diet plans may be an approach for weight management. However, a perception exists that vegetarian diets are deficient in certain nutrients.


To compare dietary quality of vegetarians, nonvegetarians, and dieters, and to test the hypothesis that a vegetarian diet would not compromise nutrient intake when used to manage body weight.


Cross-sectional analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004) (NHANES)dietary and anthropometric data. Diet quality was determined using United States Department of Agriculture's Healthy Eating Index 2005. Participants included adults aged 19 years and older, excluding pregnant and lactating women (N=13,292). Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets were portrayed by intakes of participants who did not eat meat, poultry, or fish on the day of the survey (n=851). Weight-loss diets were portrayed by intakes of participants who consumed 500 kcal less than their estimated energy requirements (n=4,635). Mean nutrient intakes and body mass indexes were adjusted for energy, sex, and ethnicity. Using analysis of variance, all vegetarians were compared to all nonvegetarians, dieting vegetarians to dieting nonvegetarians, and nondieting vegetarians to nondieting nonvegetarians.


Mean intakes of
Although vegetarian intakes of vitamin E, vitamin A, and magnesium exceeded that of nonvegetarians (8.3±0.3 vs 7.0±0.1 mg; 718±28 vs 603±10 μg; 322±5 vs 281±2 mg), both groups had intakes that were less than desired. The Healthy Eating Index score did not differ for all vegetarians compared to all nonvegetarians (50.5±0.88 vs 50.1±0.33, P=0.6).


These findings suggest that vegetarian diets are nutrient dense, consistent with dietary guidelines, and could be recommended for weight management without compromising diet quality.