Diet quality on meatless days: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2012

Public Health Nutr. 2017 Jun;20(9):1564-1573. doi: 10.1017/S136898001700026X. Epub 2017 Mar 8.


Objective: To compare diet quality scores between adult non-meat eaters and meat eaters, and to compare the consumption of diet components across quintiles of diet quality.

Design: Cross-sectional analysis. The Healthy Eating Index-2010 (HEI-2010) and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010) were used to assess mean diet quality. Differences in consumption of diet components between quintiles of diet quality were tested using post hoc Wald tests and z tests.

Setting: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2012.

Subjects: The sample consisted of 16810 respondents aged≥18 years, including 280 individuals who reported not consuming meat, poultry, game birds or seafood on two non-consecutive days of dietary recall. Dietary data were obtained from one dietary recall per individual.

Results: Non-meat eaters had substantially greater HEI-2010 and AHEI-2010 scores than meat eaters (P<0·05). Among non-meat eaters, mean consumption across HEI-2010 quintiles demonstrated different (P<0·05) amounts of empty calories and unsaturated:saturated fatty acids. Mean consumption across AHEI-2010 quintiles demonstrated different (P<0·05) amounts of nuts and legumes, vegetables and PUFA.

Conclusions: Public health messages targeted at vegetarians and others who may choose to eat meat-free on certain days should emphasize decreased consumption of empty calories, and increased consumption of nuts and legumes, PUFA and vegetables, as a way to improve overall dietary quality.

Keywords: Diet quality; Healthy Eating Index; Meat; Vegetarian.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Fabaceae
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Food Quality*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Nuts
  • Public Health
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vegetables
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated