Urine Metabolite Profiles and Nutrient Intake Based on 4-Day Weighed Food Diary in Habitual Vegans, Vegetarians, and Omnivores

J Nutr. 2021 Jan 4;151(1):30-39. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa019.


Background: Increasing interest in diets excluding meat and other products of animal origin emphasizes the importance of objective and reliable methods to measure dietary exposure, to evaluate associations and causation between diet and health, and to quantify nutrient intakes in different diets.

Objectives: This study aimed to investigate if NMR analysis of urine samples can serve as an objective method to discriminate vegan, vegetarian with or without fish, and omnivore diets. A secondary aim was to assess the influence of dietary nutrient intake on the metabolomics results.

Methods: Healthy individuals (43 men and 75 women, age 19-57 y) complying with habitual vegan (n = 42), vegetarian (n = 25), vegetarian + fish (n = 13), or omnivore (n = 38) diets were enrolled. Data were collected on clinical phenotype and lifestyle including a 4-d weighed food diary. Urine was analyzed for metabolites by NMR spectroscopy and data normalized using probabilistic quotient normalization and Pareto-scaled before multivariate analysis. Before orthogonal projections to latent structures with discriminant analysis, participants were assigned as meat consumers or nonmeat consumers (vegans and vegetarians), vegans or nonvegans (omnivores, vegetarian, and vegetarian + fish).

Results: The main results showed that it was possible to discriminate meat and nonmeat consumers (91% correctly classified), but discrimination between vegans and nonvegans was less rigorous (75% correctly classified). Secondary outcomes showed that reported intake of protein was higher in omnivores, and saturated fat lower and fiber higher in vegans, compared with the other groups. Discriminating metabolites were mainly related to differences in protein intake.

Conclusions: NMR urine metabolomics appears suitable to objectively identify and predict habitual intake of meat in healthy individuals, but results should be interpreted with caution because not only food groups but also specific foods contribute to the patterns.This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT02039609.

Keywords: NMR; habitual diet; meat; metabolomics; nutrients; omnivore; urine; vegan; vegetarian.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Diet / classification*
  • Diet Records*
  • Eating*
  • Energy Intake
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat
  • Middle Aged
  • Vegans*
  • Vegetarians*
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02039609