A vegetarian diet rich in soybean products compromises iron status in young students.J Nutr 1995; 125(2):212-9JN
The iron status of young Chinese Buddhist vegetarians (23 men and 32 women) and nonvegetarian students (20 men and 39 women from a medical college) was investigated by dietary assessment of iron intake and hematological measurement of biochemical indices including hemoglobin, plasma iron, transferrin, transferrin saturation and plasma ferritin. A characteristic of the vegetarian diet in this study was the replacement of meat by soybean products. Results of the dietary assessment showed that the average iron density of the diets ranged from 1.9 to 2.2 mg/MJ, with no difference between the vegetarian and nonvegetarian diets. Daily iron intake was similar in both vegetarian and nonvegetarian men. However, iron intake was significantly higher in female vegetarians than nonvegetarians, averaging 104 and 78% of the RDA, respectively. Results of blood analysis showed that, for both sexes, the median plasma ferritin concentration of the vegetarians (male 47 micrograms/L and female 12 micrograms/L) was about half the level of the nonvegetarians (male 91 micrograms/L and female 27 micrograms/L). Occurrence and risk of iron deficiency are more prevalent in vegetarians. Correlation between plasma ferritin concentration and years of vegetarian practice in vegetarian men was marginally significant (r = -0.38, P = 0.077). We conclude that a vegetarian diet that is rich in soybean products and restricted in animal foods is limited in bioavailable iron and is not adequate for maintaining iron balance in men and women.