Vegetarian diets are associated with factors that may not support bone health, such as low body mass and low intakes of protein; yet, these diets are alkaline, a factor that favors bone mineral density (BMD). This study compared the correlates of BMD in young, non-obese adults consuming meat-based (n = 27), lacto-ovo vegetarian (n = 27), or vegan (n = 28) diets for ≥1 year. A 24 h diet recall, whole body DXA scan, 24 h urine specimen, and fasting blood sample were collected from participants. BMD did not differ significantly between groups. Protein intake was reduced ~30% in individuals consuming lacto-ovo and vegan diets as compared to those consuming meat-based diets (68 ± 24, 69 ± 29, and 97 ± 47 g/day respectively, p = 0.006); yet dietary protein was only associated with BMD for those following vegan diets. Urinary pH was more alkaline in the lacto-ovo and vegan groups versus omnivores (6.5 ± 0.4, 6.7 ± 0.4, and 6.2 ± 0.4 respectively, p = 0.003); yet urinary pH was associated with BMD in omnivores only. These data suggest that plant-based diets are not detrimental to bone in young adults. Moreover, diet prescriptions for bone health may vary among diet groups: increased fruit and vegetable intake for individuals with high meat intakes and increased plant protein intake for individuals who follow a vegetarian diet plan.
Keywords: acid-base balance; bone mineral density; protein; vegan; vegetarian.