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.