As I look back on 30 years of The Vegetarian Resource Group, I can only marvel at how far our knowledge of vegetarian nutrition has come. In 1982, 42 English-language scientific articles related to vegetarian diets or health were published. Over the next 29 years, more than 2,300 articles were published, with more than 90 appearing in the past year alone.

The past 30 years have seen many milestones in research and policies related to vegetarian nutrition. We've seen oat bran slip out of favor to be replaced by other fads, including acai, spirulina, coconut water, green tea, and pomegranate juice. Dietary advice moved from a focus on very lowfat diets to high-protein/low-carb diets to a more recent interest in raw foods and gluten-free diets. Through all of these changes in nutrition and food recommendations, research consistently pointed to the health advantages of diets based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dried beans.

Here's a timeline of highlights in research and policy related to vegetarian diets, as reported in Vegetarian Journal.

1982Researchers at Tufts University and MIT report on the nutritional status of vegetarian children.
1983A vegetarian diet is shown to be an effective way to lower blood pressure.
1985Lower rates of diabetes are seen in vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists.
1987Studies at “The Farm,” an intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee, show that it is possible to sustain a normal pregnancy on a vegan diet.
1988The first International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition is held in Washington, DC. VRG's Advisor, Suzanne Havala, RD, authors the American Dietetic Association's position paper on vegetarian diets. Dietitians affiliated with The VRG have authored or co-authored every ADA position paper since 1988.
1990Dean Ornish, MD, reports that lifestyle changes (lowfat near-vegan diet, smoking cessation, stress management training, and moderate exercise) can reduce blockage in coronary arteries.
1991A landmark study of children and adolescents in Southern California finds that, on average, Adventist vegetarian children are taller than their meat-consuming classmates.
1993Long-term use of a vegetarian diet is shown to help control blood pressure in older (>65 years) Seventh-day Adventists.

The EPIC-Oxford study begins in the UK. The Oxford component of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) is a prospective cohort of 65,000 men and women, many of whom are vegetarian, living in the UK. This study will produce a tremendous amount of information on vegetarian diets and health.
1995The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) replaces outdated and questionable information in its publications about vegetarian diets — including “Vegetarians just love crab cakes and shrimp,” and “It's unhealthy for children to eat no red meat” — with more current and accurate information that supports vegetarianism as a positive dietary choice.

For the first time ever, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines mention vegetarianism. “Some Americans eat vegetarian diets for reasons of culture, belief, or health. Most vegetarians eat dairy products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo vegetarians enjoy excellent health. Vegetarian diets are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines and can meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients.”
1997A study of teens in Minnesota finds those who self-identify as vegetarian are more likely to have a healthful diet with more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweets and salty snacks.

An expert committee commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund concludes that dietary choices are responsible for approximately one-third of all cancer deaths and that vegetarians have a decreased incidence of several kinds of cancer. The committee's recommendations for reducing cancer risk include, “Choose predominantly plant-based diets rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods,” and “If eaten at all, limit intake of red meat to less than 3 ounces daily.”
1999Researchers at the Third International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition report that combined data from five studies involving more than 75,000 subjects shows that mortality from heart disease is 24 percent lower in vegetarians than in non-vegetarians.
2000Calcium-fortified soymilk is included in the Milk Group of the Food Guide Pyramid for the first time.
2001A study shows that older women with a high intake of animal protein have almost three times more risk of fracturing a hip than do women with lower animal protein intakes.

A study of California Seventh-day Adventists finds that being vegetarian increases life expectancy by several years.
2002The Adventist Health Study-2—a study of more than 96,000 Seventh-day Adventists in the United States and Canada, approximately one-third of whom are categorized as vegetarian or vegan—begins.

A UK study finds that non-meat-eaters, especially vegans, have a lower prevalence of hypertension and lower blood pressures than meat-eaters, largely because of differences in Body Mass Index (BMI).
2003Vegans have the lowest BMI, followed by vegetarians and then fish-eaters, compared to meat-eaters in the UK.
2005A vegan diet high in soy protein, almonds, and viscous fibers from oats, barley, psyllium, eggplant, and okra appears to be as effective as medication in lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Large studies find a significant correlation between red and processed meat consumption and risk of colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.
2006A lowfat, vegan diet is successfully used in treatment of type 2 diabetes. Subjects who follow the vegan diet have better lipid levels and glycemic control than those on a conventional diabetic diet.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations releases Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Opinions, an extensive report assessing livestock's impact on the environment. Among its conclusions are that the livestock sector produces more greenhouse gases than automobiles and other forms of transportation and that livestock produce almost two-thirds of ammonia emissions, a significant contributor to acid rain.
2007A large study from the UK finds that adequate intakes of calcium are needed to reduce risk of bone fracture in vegans.
2008Modifications to the food package included in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) allow soymilk or tofu to be substituted for cow's milk for women and children. (Medical documentation is required for children.) Tofu and soymilk must meet specific nutritional standards to be approved for purchase.
2009The National Cancer Institute estimates that 11 percent of deaths in men and 16 percent of deaths in women could be prevented by decreasing red meat consumption. For women, a marked decrease in red or processed meat consumption is estimated to prevent approximately one in five deaths from heart disease.
2010Dietary Guidelines 2010, issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, speaks highly of the health benefits of vegetarian diets and includes vegetarian and vegan meal patterns for the first time.
2011A large study from the UK reports that vegetarians (including vegans) have a 30 percent lower risk of developing diverticular disease compared to non-vegetarians.

Adventist Health Study-2 finds a much lower risk of metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and too much body fat) and of type 2 diabetes in those eating a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet.
2012Public schools have the option to use tofu as a meat alternate for school breakfast and lunch programs.