Scientific Update

A Review of Recent Scientific Papers Related to Vegetarianism

Get the Most From Your Grocery Money

Increased prevalence of heart disease in the United States has led to a push for more healthful eating practices. However, many people cite high cost as a barrier to healthful eating.

To examine this perception, researchers conducted a study to determine if heart-healthy diets did indeed cost more than less healthful diets. The study evaluated the diets of nurses from across the country compared to dietary guidelines such as the Food Guide Pyramid. Then, their diets were given a numerical score called the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI). Lower AHEI scores were connected to an increased risk for chronic disease, while higher AHEI scores indicated a reduced risk of chronic disease. When the study subjects’ diets were separated by food cost, it was clear that higher AHEI scores could be reached even at the lower spending levels, suggesting that eating healthfully does not have to be more expensive than eating a less healthful diet.

Including foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans is a great way to improve the health status of one’s diet. In the long run, a healthful diet is less expensive than prescription and over-thecounter drug treatments used to reduce the risk of heart disease. Think about it—purchasing costly medications such as statins can reduce the risk for heart disease by approximately 20-27 percent. In contrast, improving the types of foods consumed by eating more soy, beans, and produce can decrease risk by approximately 25 percent.

Vegetarians have a head start on healthful eating because they have already eliminated the high-fat meats that can increase the risk for heart disease.

Bernstein AM, Bloom DE, Rosner BA, Franz M, Willet WC. 2010. Relation of food cost to healthfulness of diet among U.S. women. Am J Clin Nutr 92:1197-1203.

*Written by Julia Warren, dietetics student and VRG volunteer

Dietary Choices Can Reduce the Risk of Bone Fracture

The type of diet that you eat has been shown to affect your risk of developing many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. A recent study suggests that dietary choices can influence your risk of bone fracture as well. Researchers studied more than 5,000 men and postmenopausal women aged 50 years or older. They asked the study subjects about their diets and then looked at the number of broken bones over the next 10 years. Subjects whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains had a reduced risk of fracturing a bone, regardless of their bone density or the number of falls that they reported. The strongest benefit was seen in older women, a group that is at a high risk of bone fracture.

Langsetmo L, Hanley DA, Prior JC, et al. 2011. Dietary patterns and incident low-trauma fractures in postmenopausal women and men aged >50 y: a population-based cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr 93:192-99.

New Dietary Recommendations Issued for Calcium and Vitamin D

The Institute of Medicine recently issued new Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for calcium and vitamin D. Calcium recommendations for most adults did not change from the earlier (1997) report, but vitamin D recommendations for adults increased.

Based on national surveys of calcium and vitamin D blood levels, the committee who developed the recommendations concluded that the majority of Americans are getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Concerns were expressed that many people have been misdiagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. The committee concluded that a blood vitamin D level at or above 20 nanograms per milliliter indicates an adequate vitamin D status.

Some vitamin D can be produced after sun exposure, but since many people do not get much sun, the vitamin D recommendations were developed with the assumption that sun exposure was minimal.

Age and Gender Group (in years) Calcium RDA (mg/day) Vitamin D RDA(IU/day)
Females,19-50 1000 600
Females,51-70 1200 600
Males,19-50 1000 600
Males,51-70 1000 600
Males and Females, >70 1200 800
IOM (Institute of Medicine).Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011.

Dietary Guidelines, 2010, Includes Information About Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a statement of current federal policy on the role of dietary factors in health promotion and disease prevention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services issue Dietary Guidelines every five years. The latest edition, issued in January 2011, includes changes that will impact food guides and other nutrition education materials produced by the federal government.

The latest guidelines are quite positive about vegetarian diets and state, "In prospective studies of adults, compared to non-vegetarian eating patterns, vegetarianstyle eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes-lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, and lower total mortality. Several clinical trials have documented that vegetarian eating patterns lower blood pressure."

The guidelines continue: "On average, vegetarians consume a lower proportion of calories from fat (particularly saturated fatty acids); fewer overall calories; and more fiber, potassium, and vitamin C than do nonvegetarians. Vegetarians generally have a lower body mass index. These characteristics and other lifestyle factors associated with a vegetarian diet may contribute to the positive health outcomes that have been identified among vegetarians."

The Dietary Guidelines include vegetarian and vegan adaptations of USDA food patterns. For example, the vegan meal pattern for a person needing 1,800 calories daily includes 1½ cups of fruit, 2½ cups of vegetables, 6 ounces of grains (at least half whole grains), 5 ounces of proteins (beans, peas, soy products, nuts, and seeds), 3 cups of vegan 'dairy' foods (calcium-fortified plant milk or yogurt, calcium-set tofu), 1/2 ounce of oil or vegan margarine, and 161 calories to use as desired.

For more information see The vegan meal patterns are found in Appendix 9 and can be seen at

*Written by Charles Stahler, VRG Coordinator

Inner-City Residents May Have Limited Access to Health-Promoting Vegetables

Dark green vegetables (including collards, mustard greens, and kale) and orange vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash) have many health benefits. Not only do dark green vegetables supply calcium, but diets rich in dark green and orange vegetables have been associated with a lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for 1-21/2 cups of dark green vegetables per week and 3-7 cups of orange vegetables per week for most adults. These amounts may be difficult for some Americans to achieve because of limited availability. A recent survey of food stores (including grocery stores, convenience stores, meat markets, and produce markets) in three Detroit communities found that most stores had fewer than five varieties of dark green or orange vegetables. Residents of neighborhoods where there were no stores carrying five or more varieties of vegetables ate lower amounts of these vegetables than people whose neighborhood stores had a greater variety of vegetables. Options such as farmers' markets and community gardens are possibilities for improving access to nutrient- rich vegetables.

Izumi BT, Zenik SN, Schulz AJ, et al. 2011. Associations between neighborhood availability and individual consumption of dark-green and orange vegetables among ethnically diverse adults in Detroit. J Am Diet Assoc 111:274-79.