Middle East Veg Congress spotlights 'Diet Crisis'

International Vegetarian Union | 12/07/11

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The Congress raises the issue of responsible marketing by the food industry and the need to create mass awareness in the community

December 7, Dubai UAE: “We are intricately linked to Mother Earth and hence what we eat and how we source our food are factors we must consider,” said Sandhya Prakash, founder of the Middle East Vegetarian Group (MeVeg) at the recently held first regional Congress.  While inaugurating the event in Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, Dr Salem Abdul Rahman Al Darmaki, Undersecretary, UAE Ministry of Health, lauded the efforts of MeVeg in creating awareness about food, health and the environment. Following the opening, Sandhya Prakash, felicitated officials from Dubai Municipality, Department of Public Health and Safety headed by Engr. Reda Salman, Engr, Mohammed Al Noori, Director, Environmental Center for Arab Towns and Ms.Wafa Helmi Aish, Director Clinical Nutrition from Dubai Health Authority for their support of the Meveg Congress.

At the conference Sandhya Prakash indicated that the world is currently facing a 'Diet Crisis', which includes the increasing consumption of foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat, dairy and meat. The second is the crisis of ‘clear food labeling' on packaged goods and the third is responsible marketing strategies by the food companies. Children particularly are soft targets as they are bombarded everyday with advertisements about savoury snacks, chips and other packaged food and junk food that are not only stripped of nutrients but also contain harmful ingredients such as mono sodium glutamate or MSG, trans fats, food coloring, additives and preservatives amongst others. All these factors, she stated, adversely affect the health of the entire community as well as the health of our planet as we are all intimately linked to Mother Earth. She pointed out how unbiased food education is vital to empower people in the UAE to make the right food choices.

Fruitarian Loh Yeow Nguan from Singapore made an enlightening presentation on Anti Oxidants. He explained that research indicates how fruits that are rich in colours, especially berries of all kinds, did not only prevent aging and potential for cancer and other auto immune diseases, but also consumption of these fruits could reverse the process of aging and even diseases in certain cases. He cited how several patients having diabetes, blood pressure could reduce the impact of such diseases by adopting a fruit diet. A video showed how antioxidants undo the harm done by free radicals to the integrity of our body cells.

Dr. Robin Tauzin, Health Advisor & Naturopathic Physician, made a presentation on the importance of reading food labels when buying packaged foods. She highlighted harmful ingredients and their so called synonyms. The first on her list was MSG or mono sodium glutamate. Several research findings have  shown that far from contributing to the taste of the food, MSG simply excites our neurons to the point of killing them while simultaneously disengaging the feeling of satiation. This meant that a person eating food containing MSG fails to feel full as his brain sends his stomach messages of ongoing hunger. This results in overeating. The other names of MSG include hydrolyzed protein, textured protein, yeast nutrient, yeast extract etc. She stated that MSG results in several after effects including headache, nausea and many of us are unaware of its varied consequences.

The other ingredient Dr. Tauzin highlighted was High Fructose Corn Syrup, dextrose and sucralose, which are found in several packaged food including cereals and low fat foods. Trans-fats or hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable shortening and margarine, research findings show, are fats created in the factory rather than by nature. The body is unable to recognize these fats and these begin to adversely interfere with the normal working of our cells and cell membranes. Dr. Tauzin said it was better to consume natural fats found in seeds and nuts or even animal fat such as butter rather than factory produced trans fats which are found in high amounts in sugar free products.

She also enlightened the delegates about BPA (Bisphenol A) , the harmful plastic lining found in canned products which research has shown is detrimental to health. And finally, Dr. Tauzin, cited the cancer causing 'Acrylamide' -  a well-established carcinogen and neurotoxin (causes nerve damage) which is formed when frying or baking potatoes and other high starch foods such as cookies and breads. She also provided a list of extremely damaging food colouring and preservatives such as Blue Dye 1, Blue Dye 2, Red Dye 3, Red Dye 40, Yellow Dye 6, yellow tartrazine, potassium Bromate, BHA and BHT and Sodium Sulphite that is found in wines.

"Healthy Plate" talk was given by Director of Clinical Nutrition, Wafaa Helmi Aish, Dubai Health Authority. The MEVEG Congress program held alongwith the Middle East Natural & Organic Products Exhibition (MENOPE 2011)  included a group discussion on ‘Natural Living - Health or Wealth’, the challenges and possible solutions, the importance of research and public education on such topics. The lunch and workshops were supported by Barakat, Choithrams and Dubai World Trade Centre.

For more details or to attend the conference, visit

About MEVEG:

The Middle East Vegetarian Group (MEVEG) is a non-profit, focus and support group providing a one stop platform for information exchange regarding health and food topics. MEVEG  aims at promoting increased consumption of plant-based regional diets to reap health and eco-benefits. The group holds monthly seminars where experts speak to members on related topics of nutrition and health. The group is open to all communities including non-vegetarians who are looking to expanding their knowledge about food-health related issues.

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