Background: Despite the possible overall health benefits of a vegetarian diet, there is concern that some vegetarians and infrequent meat eaters, particularly females, may have inadequate iron status because of low or no heme-iron intakes.
Objective: The objective was to investigate the nutritional intake and iron status of vegetarian women.
Design: The nutritional intakes of 50 free-living vegetarian women aged 18-45 y and 24 age-matched omnivorous control women were assessed by using 12-d weighed dietary records. Iron status was assessed by measuring hemoglobin and serum ferritin concentrations.
Results: There was no significant difference between mean (+/-SD) daily iron intakes of vegetarians and omnivores (10.7 +/- 4.4 and 9.9 +/- 2.9 mg, respectively), although heme-iron intakes were low in the vegetarians. Vegetarians had significantly lower intakes of protein (P < 0.01), saturated fat (P < 0.01), and cholesterol (P < 0.001), and significantly higher intakes of dietary fiber (P < 0.001) and vitamin C (P < 0.05). Mean serum ferritin concentrations were significantly lower (P = 0.025) in vegetarians (25.0 +/- 16.2 microg/L) than in omnivores (45.5 +/- 42.5 microg/L). However, similar numbers of vegetarians (18%) and omnivores (13%) had serum ferritin concentrations <12 microg/L, which is a value often used as an indicator of low iron stores. Hemoglobin concentrations were not significantly different.
Conclusion: It is important that both vegetarian and omnivorous women maintain an adequate iron status and follow dietary practices that enhance iron absorption.