Background: There is a growing trend for vegetarian and vegan diets in many Western countries. Epidemiological evidence suggesting that such diets may help in maintaining good health is rising. However, dietary and sociodemographic characteristics of vegetarians and vegans are not well known. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to describe sociodemographic and nutritional characteristics of self-reported, adult vegetarians and vegans, compared to meat-eaters, from the French NutriNet-Santé study.
Methods: Participants were asked if they were following a specific diet. They were then classified into three self-reported diet groups: 90,664 meat-eaters, 2370 vegetarians, and 789 vegans. Dietary data were collected using three repeated 24-h dietary records. Multivariable polytomic logistic regression models were perfomed to assess the association between the sociodemographic characteristics and type of diet. The prevalence of nutrient intake inadequacy was estimated, by sex and age for micronutrients, as well as by type of self-reported diet.
Results: Compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians were more likely to have a higher educational level, whereas vegans had a lower education level. Compared with meat-eaters, vegetarians were more likely to be women, younger individuals, and to be self-employed or never employed rather than managerial staff. Vegetarians and vegans substituted animal protein-dense products with a higher consumption of plant protein-dense products (e.g., soy-based products or legumes). Vegetarians had the most balanced diets in terms of macronutrients, but also had a better adherence to French dietary guidelines. Vegetarians exhibited a lower estimated prevalence of inadequacies for micronutrients such as antioxidant vitamins (e.g., for vitamin E, 28.9% for vegetarian women <55 years of age vs. 41.6% in meat-eaters) while vegans exhibited a higher estimated prevalence of inadequacies for some nutrients, in particular vitamin B12 (69.9% in men and 83.4% in women <55 years of age), compared to meat-eaters.
Conclusions: Our study highlighted that, overall, self-reported vegetarians and vegans may meet nutritional recommendations.
Keywords: diet; dietary nutrient inadequacy; sociodemographic characteristics; vegans; vegetarians.