Assessing vegan and vegetarian diet quality with food pattern models

Assessing vegan and vegetarian diet quality with food pattern models

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Dietary patterns can be created with food pattern modelling to estimate the quantity of different food groups required to attain nutrient needs. Furthermore, this process can enable the determination of nutrient adequacy and quality of various diets, including those with restrictions on certain food groups.

To provide clearer guidelines for vegan and dairy-free vegetarian diets, a recent study from the US Department of Agriculture aimed to evaluate the nutrient adequacy and diet quality of a calorie-matched ovo-vegetarian (includes eggs but no dairy) and vegan (excludes all animal products) diet. This was done through a modelled 5-day sample menu for each dietary pattern, which included frequently consumed foods among Americans.

When measured against a healthy eating index score-2015 (HEI-2015), these diets had scores above 90 and were considered to be of high quality. However, they both fell short of perfect scores due to exceeding amounts of sodium, refined grains, and fatty acid ratio.

While the quantity of carbohydrates, protein, and fat (macronutrients) were within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges, the quantity of some micronutrients were below 90% of recommended levels. Even though sufficient servings of each food group were included, nutrients including iron, zinc, choline, vitamin E and vitamin D were below the recommended intake values.

Knowledge, informed dietary planning, and making health-promoting choices are crucial when it comes to consuming a vegan or vegetarian diet. While a diet high in plant foods could promote environmental sustainability and reduce certain risks of non-communicable diseases, the need to consider nutrient equivalence and quality when compared to animal-inclusive diets is key. This is especially important because a poorly planned vegan or vegetarian diet may result in a shortfall of important nutrients. In conclusion, the authors recommended the inclusion of specific foods to mitigate micronutrient shortfalls in vegetarian and vegan diets.

This SNippet was written by Patricia Soh, a PhD fellow in the SNi team.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash


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