I spent 3 days at the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition this past week in Loma Linda, CA. Held every five years or so, the event is hosted by the School of Public Health of Loma Linda University and is considered the premiere conference on plant-based nutrition. It brings experts and researchers together from all over the world and its proceedings are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the most prestigious of all nutrition journals. I was honored this year (and a bit terrified, since I felt very much out of my league) to be a speaker.

Material presented at the conference included reviews of earlier research as well as new findings from the most current studies. Even where the information was familiar to me, though, it was informative and interesting to hear perspective from the researchers themselves.

Some findings that were presented at this year’s conference:

  • Vitamin B12 continues to be a problem for vegans (and often vegetarians) who don’t supplement.
  • Higher protein diets do not appear to raise risk for osteoporosis. To the contrary, protein appears to be protective, and vegans who eat more beans and veggie meats may have a lower fracture risk. Vegans who fail to get adequate calcium put themselves at risk for poor bone health. (Jack recently wrote about protein and bone health, too)
  • Replacing certain animal foods in the diet–especially processed and red meats–with plant foods reduces risk for chronic disease. No surprise here. In contrast, we face an uphill battle if we want to demonize dairy foods from a health perspective. The science does not support any particular danger of consuming these foods. (There is evidence, however, that skipping dairy is a good way to shrink your carbon footprint.)
  • Higher fat plant foods are good for you. The research on nuts suggests myriad health benefits. New, hot-off-the-press research presented at the conference also suggested that there are benefits to including olive oil in plant-based heart-healthy diets. At the very least, there is no reason to think that it is harmful.

The conference gave me confidence that the themes that come up often on this blog are well supported by the evidence. That is, vegans do need to pay attention to certain nutrients. And, there are no plant foods that need to be avoided completely on a healthy vegan diet. And finally, while there is abundant evidence supporting health benefits of a plant-based diet—ie, a diet that contains mostly plant foods—it’s difficult to build the case for veganism without bringing ethics into the picture.