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October 2021

Age Ageing. 1998 Jul; 27(4): 455-61.

Nutritional status of elderly Chinese vegetarians.

Woo J, Kwok T, Ho SC, Sham A, Lau E.

Department of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, NT. [email protected]

AIM: To study the nutritional status of elderly Chinese vegetarians. SUBJECTS AND METHOD: Dietary intake (using the 24-h recall method), anthropometric indices and some nutritional laboratory parameters were studied in 131 elderly Chinese vegetarian women with a mean age of 81 years. Data from age- and sex-matched omnivore subjects from previous elderly surveys were used for comparison. RESULTS: Total energy, fat and protein calorie, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin intakes were lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians, while carbohydrate calorie, calcium, potassium, retinol equivalent and ascorbic acid intakes were higher. The 25th, 50th and 75th percentile for total body fat were lower and those for corrected arm muscle area were higher in vegetarians. Both urinary Na/Cr and K/Cr ratios were higher but the Na/K ratio was similar to that in non-vegetarians, as were mean systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Serum total cholesterol was lower, while serum triglyceride concentration was similar. The mean haemoglobin level was lower in vegetarians, the prevalence of anaemia being 30%, with deficiencies in B12 and/or iron accounting for 64% of the anaemia, compared with only 30% in non-vegetarians. Serum B12 concentration below the reference range occurred in 54% of the vegetarian subjects. Vegetarians also had a lower prevalence of a history of ischaemic heart disease; however, the prevalence of smoking was also lower. CONCLUSION: While the Chinese vegetarian diet may result in a favourable risk-factor profile for ischaemic heart disease, it is deficient in many B vitamins and gives rise to a high frequency of nutritional anaemias.

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