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ARS Home » Plains Area » Grand Forks, North Dakota » Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center » Healthy Body Weight Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #333655

Research Project: Dietary Guidelines Adherence and Healthy Body Weight Maintenance

Location: Healthy Body Weight Research

Title: Diet quality on meatless days: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2012

item Conrad, Zach
item Karlsen, Micaela - Tufts University
item Chui, Kenneth - Tufts University
item Jahns, Lisa

Submitted to: Public Health Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/24/2017
Publication Date: 3/8/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Conrad, Z.S., Karlsen, M., Chui, K., Jahns, L.A. 2017. Diet quality on meatless days: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2012. Public Health Nutrition. doi:10.1017/S136898001700026X.

Interpretive Summary: People who consume vegetarian diets tend to be healthier than people who eat meat regularly. However, it is unknown whether all vegetarian diets are equally healthy. We acquired data on food consumption from nearly 17,000 adults from a national survey, which included about 280 people who said that they don’t consume any meat. We then measured the diet quality of all of these people using two tools: the Healthy Eating Index-2010 and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. First, we found that non-meat eaters had much higher diet quality than meat eaters, which confirms what other studies have found. Second, among non-meat eaters, we found that there was a very large range in diet quality. Finally, we found that when compared to non-meat eaters with the lowest diet quality, those with the highest diet quality consumed less added sugar, saturated fat, and alcohol, and more fruit, beans, nuts, vegetables, and unsaturated fat. People who are currently vegetarians or who don’t eat meat on some days should focus specifically on consuming less added sugar, saturated fat, and alcohol, and more fruit, nuts, beans, vegetables, and unsaturated fat.

Technical Abstract: Objective: To compare diet quality scores between adult non-meat eaters and meat eaters, and to compare the consumption of diet components across quintiles of diet quality. Design: Cross-sectional analysis. Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010) and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010) were used to assess mean diet quality. Differences in consumption of diet components between quintiles of diet quality were tested using post hoc Wald tests. Setting: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2012. Subjects: The sample consisted of 16,688 adult respondents, including 281 individuals that reported not consuming meat, fowl, or seafood on two non-consecutive days of dietary recall. Dietary data were obtained from one dietary recall per individual. Results: Non-meat eaters had substantially higher HEI-2010 and AHEI-2010 scores compared to meat eaters (P<0.05). Among non-meat eaters, mean consumption across HEI-2010 quintiles demonstrated significantly different amounts of empty calories, whole fruit, and plant proteins (P<0.05). Mean consumption across AHEI-2010 quintiles demonstrated significantly different amounts of nuts and legumes, vegetables, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (P<0.05). Conclusions: Public health messages targeted at vegetarians and others who may choose to eat meat-free on certain days should emphasize decreased consumption of empty calories, and increased consumption of whole grains, plant proteins, nuts and legumes, and vegetables as a way to improve overall dietary quality.