Scientist evaluates eating dairy-free vegetarian, vegan diets

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Scientist evaluates eating dairy-free vegetarian, vegan diets

Scientist evaluates eating dairy-free vegetarian, vegan diets
A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist has evaluated the current healthy vegetarian dietary pattern in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and found that it can be adapted for a dairy-free vegetarian or vegan diet and still meet nutrient recommendations for nonpregnant and nonbreastfeeding healthy adults.

The 2020-2025 DGA, published by USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS), provides recommendations on healthy eating patterns for all healthy people and offers a customizable framework of healthy options that can be adapted for affordability as well as personal or cultural preferences. However, it is unclear whether the healthy vegetarian dietary pattern can be adapted for an all-vegetarian diet without causing nutritional problems.

A healthy dietary pattern is a combination of foods and beverages that meet nutritional needs, promote health, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

The study, conducted by Dr. Julie Hess at the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, followed similar dietary pattern modeling procedures as the DGA Scientific Advisory Board to model an alternative egg- and dairy-free vegetarian dietary pattern and a vegan dietary pattern that meets most nutrient recommendations for healthy adults [not pregnant and not breastfeeding] eating a diet of 1,800, 2,000, 2,200 or 2,400 calories.

"In the two models, the dairy group was replaced with nondairy, nutrient-dense options included in the 2020-2025 DGA, i.e., fortified soymilk and soy yogurt. Additionally, in the vegan model, eggs were replaced with equal proportions of vegetarian protein foods, including soy products, nuts and seeds, and beans, peas and lentils," Dr. Hess said.

The results of this study show that there was little change in the levels of many nutrients between the original healthy vegetarian dietary pattern and the vegan and dairy-free vegetarian adaptations. The vegan and dairy-free vegetarian diets contained slightly more calories and slightly higher levels of some nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin B12, and choline. However, they contained less protein, sodium, cholesterol, phosphorus, and zinc than the original healthy vegetarian diet pattern. The only nutrient that was below recommended levels in the dairy-free vegetarian and vegan diets was zinc (for adult men only). 

"The DGA is intended to provide guidance on healthy eating for all healthy Americans, including healthy adults who follow dairy-free vegetarian and vegan diets," Dr. Hess said.

Dr. Hess also explained that while this study does not provide evidence that a vegan diet is nutritionally appropriate for everyone, it does show that it is possible to eat a nutritionally appropriate vegan diet with careful planning.
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