Metabolic profiles of male meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans from the EPIC-Oxford cohort

Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Dec;102(6):1518-26. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.111989. Epub 2015 Oct 28.


Background: Human metabolism is influenced by dietary factors and lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors; thus, men who exclude some or all animal products from their diet might have different metabolic profiles than meat eaters.

Objective: We aimed to investigate differences in concentrations of 118 circulating metabolites, including acylcarnitines, amino acids, biogenic amines, glycerophospholipids, hexose, and sphingolipids related to lipid, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism between male meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans from the Oxford arm of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

Design: In this cross-sectional study, concentrations of metabolites were measured by mass spectrometry in plasma from 379 men categorized according to their diet group. Differences in mean metabolite concentrations across diet groups were tested by using ANOVA, and a false discovery rate-controlling procedure was used to account for multiple testing. Principal component analysis was used to investigate patterns in metabolic profiles.

Results: Concentrations of 79% of metabolites differed significantly by diet group. In the vast majority of these cases, vegans had the lowest concentration, whereas meat eaters most often had the highest concentrations of the acylcarnitines, glycerophospholipids, and sphingolipids, and fish eaters or vegetarians most often had the highest concentrations of the amino acids and a biogenic amine. A clear separation between patterns in the metabolic profiles of the 4 diet groups was seen, with vegans being noticeably different from the other groups because of lower concentrations of some glycerophospholipids and sphingolipids.

Conclusions: Metabolic profiles in plasma could effectively differentiate between men from different habitual diet groups, especially vegan men compared with men who consume animal products. The difference in metabolic profiles was mainly explained by the lower concentrations of glycerophospholipids and sphingolipids in vegans.

Keywords: EPIC-Oxford; mass spectrometry; metabolomics; vegan; vegetarian.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Biomarkers / chemistry
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Vegan* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Vegetarian* / adverse effects
  • England
  • Fishes*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat* / adverse effects
  • Metabolomics / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Seafood* / adverse effects
  • Self Report
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Biomarkers