By Heather Reifsnyder
More than 700 individuals from greater than 40 countries gathered this week at Loma Linda University for the 5th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition, organized by LLU School of Public Health. The event is the world’s major scientific conference on the vegetarian diet.
The March 4 – 6 congress featured lecturers from across North America, Europe, and South America, including several who presented new, unpublished research.
The event opened March 4 with a lecture by Dr. David Heber of the University of California at Los Angeles, who spoke about cancer and nutrigenomics, and it closed March 6 with a symposium on the relationship of food production to climate change. In between, experts discussed the vegetarian diet’s relationship to everything from diabetes and cardiovascular disease to aging.
“These experts offered cutting-edge information on a wide spectrum of topics related to vegetarian nutrition,” says Dr. Joan Sabaté, chair of the congress and of the department of nutrition at LLU School of Public Health.
The proceedings of the congress will be published in a special supplement to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This was also the case with the previous four congresses.
Attendee Kenneth Sandstrom of Nora, Sweden, noted that while reports on nutrition are often conflicting, he feels confident in the quality of the data presented at the congress.
“I trust that information that I get here,” he says.
Two debates took place during the congress. The first considered whether vegetarians should include fish in their diet in order to receive optimal cardiovascular protection. A second debate addressed whether dairy foods belong in a healthy vegetarian diet. The audience also heard differing viewpoints as to whether a high-vegetable protein diet or a low-fat vegan diet is more conducive to weight loss and glycemic control.
“The 2008 vegetarian congress reestablished the relevance and significance of the Seventh-day Adventist health message to contemporary society. This message was delivered in the spirit of evidence-based science and flawlessly conveyed in what was clearly a world-class event,” says David Dyjack, DrPH, CIH, dean of the School of Public Health.
Over the years the International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition has offered a platform for the expansion of the knowledge base on the vegetarian diet. With a goal of integrating current knowledge, the first international congress, held in 1987 in Washington, D.C., was planned to examine the evidence relative to the effects of vegetarian diets on various populations.
Subsequent congresses were held in 1992, 1997, and 2002. These broadened the scope of topics for discussion.
“Since 2002, the interest in plant-based diets, and particularly vegetarian diets, has increased,” says Dr. Sabaté. “We have seen a 60 percent increase in attendance this year as compared to six years ago. In addition, more public health practitioners are attending the event.”