Background: Dietary patterns and nutrient intakes of vegetarians in a nationally representative survey have not been described.
Objective: We sought to profile and compare nutrient and food consumption patterns of self-defined vegetarians and nonvegetarians in a representative sample of the US population.
Design: Data from 13 313 participants (age: >/= 6 y) in the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (CSFII) 1994-1996, 1998 were used to compare vegetarian and nonvegetarian dietary patterns. Self-defined vegetarians and nonvegetarians were those who responded positively or negatively, respectively, to the question "Do you consider yourself to be a vegetarian?" The vegetarian and nonvegetarian groups were further characterized as "no meat" or "ate meat" on the basis of a consumption cutoff of 10 g meat/d reported on 2 nonconsecutive 24-h dietary recalls.
Results: Self-defined vegetarians whose recalls did not include meat represented 0.9% of this nationally representative sample of noninstitutionalized persons residing in the United States. Compared with nonvegetarians who ate meat, self-defined vegetarians aged >/= 20 y had lower body mass indexes regardless of whether they ate meat. Diets of self-defined vegetarians tended to be lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and higher in fiber than did the diets of nonvegetarians who ate meat. Self-defined vegetarians whose recalls contained no meat consumed more grains, legumes, vegetables (green leafy and yellow), fruit, and wine, whereas those who ate meat consumed more fruit than did nonvegetarians.
Conclusion: Self-defined vegetarians may consume red meat, poultry, or fish. However, their dietary patterns are generally healthier than are those of nonvegetarians.