Dubai: The first-ever MEVeg Congress held this week may have come as a major boost to vegetarianism, but the jury is still out on whether some of its niche diets — as advocated by an increasing tribe of vegans, fruitarians and raw foodists — can be sustained in the UAE.

"I disagree with the concept of being a total fruitarian or vegetarian," Wafaa Helmi Ayesh, Director, Clinical Nutrition Department, Dubai Health Authority, and a key speaker at the MEVeg Congress, said.

"I prefer a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, diary products, fish and meat," she said. "Vegetables and fruit are a good source of micro-nutrients, but not macro-nutrients like proteins, carbohydrates and fats, which come from dairy products, meat etc," and that strict vegetarians need to take supplements.

But Cyntha Gonzalez, a Dubai raw foodist for seven years, said a raw vegetarian diet could easily be sustained in the UAE. "We live in one of the hottest climates in the world and need a lot less calories," she said, adding that a raw food diet provides the highest levels of energy as enzymes remain intact.

Loh Yeow Nguan, a fruitarian from Singapore, said greens are healthier than a meat-based diet that requires more resources and contributes to killer diseases. But how plausible is such a shift in a meat-loving region like the UAE?

Sandhya Prakash, founder of MEVeg in Dubai, said the shift must come gradually. "Be a flexitarian. Reduce your non-vegetarian intake gradually by becoming a weekday vegetarian and a weekend non-vegetarian, she said, adding that vegetarianism is the only sustainable diet.