PURPOSE: Several studies have reported seasonal variation in intake of food groups and certain nutrients. However, whether this could lead to a seasonal pattern of diet quality has not been addressed. We aimed to describe the seasonality of diet quality, and to examine the contribution of the food groups included in the dietary guidelines to this seasonality.
METHODS: Among 9701 middle-aged and elderly participants of the Rotterdam Study, a prospective population-based cohort, diet was assessed using food-frequency questionnaires (FFQ). Diet quality was measured as adherence to the Dutch dietary guidelines, and expressed in a diet quality score ranging from 0 to 14 points. The seasonality of diet quality and of the food group intake was examined using cosinor linear mixed models. Models were adjusted for sex, age, cohort, energy intake, physical activity, body mass index, comorbidities, and education.
RESULTS: Diet quality had a seasonal pattern with a winter-peak (seasonal variation = 0.10 points, December-peak) especially among participants who were men, obese and of high socio-economic level. This pattern was mostly explained by the seasonal variation in the intake of legumes (seasonal variation = 3.52 g/day, December-peak), nuts (seasonal variation = 0.78 g/day, January-peak), sugar-containing beverages (seasonal variation = 12.96 milliliters/day, June-peak), and dairy (seasonal variation = 17.52 g/day, June-peak).
CONCLUSIONS: Diet quality varies seasonally with heterogeneous seasonality of food groups counteractively contributing to the seasonal pattern in diet quality. This seasonality should be considered in future research on dietary behavior. Also, season-specific recommendations and policies are required to improve diet quality throughout the year.