The effect of long-term differences in diet composition on whole-body acid–base status was examined in thirty-three young healthy females. The volunteers were recruited from two separate groups matched approximately for age, height and weight; one group regularly ate meat (omnivores; n 20) and one group did not (vegetarians; n 13). All subjects completed a 7 d weighed intake of food, and from their dietary records, total energy, carbohydrate (CHO), fat and protein content were estimated using computer-based food composition tables. During this week they reported to the laboratory on two occasions, following an overnight fast and separated by at least 48h. Arterialized venous blood samples were obtained on each visit and these were analysed for blood acid–base status. Haemoglobin and packed cell volume, serum total cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol, serum albumin and total protein were also determined. Two 24 h urine collections were completed; the volume was recorded and samples were analysed for pH, titratable acid and Mg and Ca concentration. Total energy intake of the omnivores was greater (P = 0.0003) than that of the vegetarian group. Dietary intake of CHO (P = 0.024), fat (P = 0.0054) and protein (P = 0.0002) were higher in the omnivorous group than in the vegetarians. There were no differences between the two groups with respect to blood CO2 partial pressure, plasma HCO3- and blood base excess, but blood pH was slightly higher in the omnivores (P = 0.064). Measures of urine acid–base status suggested a lower pH in the omnivore group, but this difference was not statistically significant; a greater titratable acid output was observed with the omnivorous group compared with the vegetarians (48.9 (se 20.3) ν. 35.3 (se 23.3) mEq/24h; P = 0.018). Although the dietary intake of Ca was not different between the two groups, urinary Ca excretion of the omnivores was significantly higher (3.87 (sd 1.34) ν. 3.22 (sd 1.20) mmol/24h) than that of the vegetarians (P = 0.014). It is suggested that the higher protein intake of the omnivores resulted in an increase in urinary total acid excretion, which may explain the higher rate of Ca excretion.