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SPH Nutrition Faculty Inform Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian nutrition at loma linda university school of public health

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) released their position paper on vegetarian diets December of 2016. The paper frequently references research conducted by nutrition faculty from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health (LLUSPH) and the Adventist Health Studies (AHS).

The paper’s abstract begins with the following sentence. It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

The AND is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. Members of the Academy play a key role in shaping the public’s food choices, thereby improving its nutritional status, and in treating persons with illnesses or injuries. In 1980, AND released its first position paper on vegetarian diets and nutritionists at LLUSPH were quite pleased.   

“[The paper] stated that ‘well planned vegetarian diets are consistent with good nutritional status.’” Said Dr. Ella Haddad, DrPH and Nutrition faculty at LLUSPH “Thirty-six years later with the release of the latest position paper in 2016, vegetarian diets are not simply described as nutritionally adequate but that they are healthy and ‘may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.’ If you examine the references cited for these statements, the vast majority come from research completed by the Adventist Health Studies and nutrition faculty at the school of public health.”

The Vegetarian Diets position paper is used by professional associations, government agencies and other industries to shape food choices and impact the public’s nutritional status.

“The paper adds to the evidence based guidelines that dietitians and/or nutritionists are encouraged to use in dietary assessment, education, and counseling.” Said Celine Heskey, DrPH, RD and Assistant Professor at LLUSPH. “It also provides links to trustworthy resources that can help professionals and the public expand their knowledge of vegetarian diets.”

Dr. Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH and Professor of Nutrition at LLUSPH served as a content advisor on the Academy Positions Committee Workgroup. According to AND, authors of the vegetarian diets position paper are made up of health professionals who possess thorough and current knowledge on the topic of vegetarian diets.

“The AND gathers a group of experts to write position papers on issues of relevance.  In relation to vegetarian diets, this has been done periodically for the last 30 years.” Said Dr. Sabaté. “The position paper is considered a summary of the state of the art information in the scientific and practical aspects of a topic, in this case, vegetarian nutrition.  The publication is very influential in the US and abroad among health professionals, and frequently quoted in the literature.”

The paper provides an overview of vegetarian diets in the United States.

  • According to a nationwide poll in 2016, approximately 3.3% of American adults are vegetarian or vegan (never eat meat, poultry or fish), and about 46% of vegetarians are vegan.
  • In the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, vegetarian diets are recommended as one of three healthful dietary patterns.

The position paper also considers different aspects of the vegetarian diet and its nutritional value related to protein, iron, calcium, certain vitamins, etc. It highlights the vegetarian diet as an effective means to prevent and decrease the effects of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Much of the research to support these claims was done by the Adventist Health Studies and LLUSPH nutrition faculty.

Environmental nutrition research out of LLUSPH was referenced to support findings that state that plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with considerably less environmental damage.

The paper also confirms that well-planned vegetarian diets “satisfy the nutrient needs and promote normal growth at all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy and lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”

“To understand the scope and impact of such a paper understand that, as AND puts it, ‘academy members, consumers, industry, and the government use position papers to shape food choices and impact the public’s nutritional status.’” Said Dr. Heskey. “The vegetarian diet position paper helps to bolster the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which supports a vegetarian diet as a viable option for healthy eating.”

The Academy’s Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets is found on the eatrightpro.org website.

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