PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to compare the antioxidant level, serum cholesterol and skin beta-carotene, of female elderly who had been living more then 10 months in institutions which offered either vegetarian or nonvegetarian diet. METHODS: Total of 110 female elderly, 56 from institution serving vegetarian diet and 54 from nonvegetarian diet, were recruited from institutions located in S and N city in Korea. beta-carotene level was measured on their palm using Pharmanex Biophotonic Scanner and annual health evaluation data was utilized for the analysis of serum cholesterol. RESULTS: The subjects on a vegetarian diet had a significantly higher level of phosphorus, carotene, and folic acid. The elderly who were living in an institution offering a vegetarian diet had a lower level of serum cholesterol and higher level of skin beta-carotene, compared to those living in an institution offering a non-vegetarian diet. CONCLUSION: This study reveals that a vegetarian diet is beneficial in increasing skin beta-carotene level, decreasing serum total cholesterol level. The skin beta-carotene measurement appear valuable as a bio-marker of antioxidant intake. Further study on antioxidant food and effective serving strategy for elderly are recommended.