13C magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a noninvasive technique used in the study of lipids. We applied 13C MRS to assess the effects of long-term dietary variation on adipose tissue composition in humans. In vivo 13C MRS was used to analyze the fatty acid composition of adipose tissue in 88 healthy volunteers with significantly different diets (38 vegans, 11 vegetarians, and 39 omnivores) assessed by analysis of dietary records. Results were compared with the serum lipid profile. 13C MRS revealed clear differences in the adipose tissue composition of vegans, which contained more unsaturated (P < 0.01) and fewer saturated fatty acids (P < 0.01) compared with omnivores and vegetarians. The vegan subjects had a significantly lower intake of saturated fatty acids and higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids than either the omnivore or the vegetarian groups (P < 0.01). These findings were associated with significantly lower levels of serum total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein-cholesterol in the vegan group compared with the omnivores. Our results demonstrate the use of 13C MRS for the noninvasive study of adipose tissue composition and its application to the study of the interaction between long-term dietary and metabolic risk factors in humans.