Nutritional profile of Indian vegetarian diets – the Indian Migration Study (IMS)

Nutritional profile of Indian vegetarian diets – the Indian Migration Study (IMS)

In response to the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a reduced intake of fat, sugar and salt, and a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, while maintaining energy balance and healthy weight. The vegetarian diet, among others such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Mediterranean and Japanese diets, may offer benefits for reducing risk of Evidence on the health benefits of a vegetarian diet from long-term cohort studies in the West, such as EPIC-OXFORD and the Adventist Health study II, show positive cardiovascular, cancer, mental health and overall mortality effects.

However, vegetarian diets may result in inadequate nutritional intake of omega-3 fatty  acids, protein and minerals, such as iron and zinc due to reduced bio-availability in plant sources. Reduced vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with increased serum levels of homocysteine and aggregation of platelets that contribute to cardiovascular disease.

This paper presents a comparative analysis of macro and micro-nutrient profiles of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets from four geographic regions of the country. Study participants included urban migrants, their rural siblings and urban residents (n = 6555, mean age - 40.9 yrs) of the Indian Migration Study from Lucknow, Nagpur, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Information on diet (validated interviewer-administered semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire), tobacco, alcohol, physical activity, medical histories, as well as blood pressure, fasting blood and anthropometric measurements were collected.

Nutrient databases were used to calculate nutrient content of regional recipes. Vegetarians ate no eggs, fish, poultry and meat. Using multivariate linear regression with robust standard error model, the macro- and micro-nutrient profile of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets were compared.

From the result obtained, the study concludes that overall, Indian vegetarian diets were found to be adequate to sustain nutritional demands according to recommended dietary allowances with less fat. Lower vitamin B12 bio-availability remains a concern and requires exploration of acceptable dietary sources for vegetarians.

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