Objective: The study was designed to investigate the iron intake and status of Australian, male vegetarians aged between 20 and 50 y.
Design: Cross-sectional comparison of male vegetarians and age/sex matched omnivores.
Setting: Free-living community subjects.
Subjects: 39 ovolactovegetarians, 10 vegans and 25 omnivores were recruited by local advertisement.
Outcome measures: A 12-d semiquantitative dietary record to assess iron and zinc intake. Iron status was assessed by measurement of serum ferritin and haemoglobin concentrations.
Results: Mean (s.d.) daily iron intakes of both the ovolactovegetarians (20.4 (7.7) mg/d) and vegans (22.9 (6.2) mg/d), were significantly higher than the omnivores' intake of 15.8 (4.5) mg/d. Ovo-lactovegetarians and vegans had significantly (P < 0.001 and P < 0.05, respectively) lower serum ferritin concentrations than omnivores: mean (s.d.): 64 (46.9), 65 (49.9) and 121 (72.5) ng/ml, respectively. Significantly more ovolactovegetarians and vegans than omnivores had serum ferritin concentrations below 25 ng/ml and below 12 ng/ml (P < 0.05). A higher proportion of omnivores had concentrations above 200 ng/ml (P < 0.05). The differences in serum ferritin concentrations between the vegetarians and omnivores remained significant even after exclusion of iron supplement users.
Conclusion: Australian male vegetarians had iron intakes higher than those of omnivores and above recommended levels, but their iron status was significantly lower.