Objective: Vegetarian diets are consistently associated with improved health outcomes, and higher diet quality may contribute to improved health outcomes. This systematic review aims to qualitatively compare the a priori diet quality of vegetarian and nonvegetarian diets.
Methods: Following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) protocol, 2 online databases (Web of Science and PubMed) were searched for English language studies comparing diet quality among vegetarian and nonvegetarian adults using an a priori diet quality index. Two reviewers assessed study eligibility. Comparisons were made between total and component (when available) diet quality scores among the 12 studies meeting inclusion criteria.
Conclusions: Lacto-ovo vegetarians or vegans had higher overall diet quality (4.5-16.4 points higher on the Healthy Eating Index 2010 [HEI-2010]) compared with nonvegetarians in 9 of 12 studies. Higher HEI-2010 scores for vegetarians were driven by closer adherence to recommendations for total fruit, whole grains, seafood and plant protein, and sodium. However, nonvegetarians had closer adherence to recommendations for refined grains and total protein foods. Higher diet quality in vegetarian diets may partially explain improvements in health outcomes compared with nonvegetarians; however, more research controlling for known confounders like health consciousness is needed.