By migramirez - October 23, 2014

From February 24 through 26, 2013, scientists, students, health educators, health ministers and curious community members attended the sixth International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition.  The conference was hosted at Loma Linda University in the Drayson Center, a lifestyle and fitness facility open to the LLU Campus and surrounding community.

For three full days, scientists, doctors, researchers and experts presented and shared the latest findings related to plant-based diets.  Over 700 people attended the conference and 35 countries were represented The ICVN, held every four to five years, is “The single most unique conference in the entire world.  It is one of a kind,” according to Sujatha Rajaram, PhD. “The content is always the most current and relevant nutritional research, delivered to a wide variety of people from different backgrounds.”

Dr. Rajaram is an associate professor and Director of the doctoral program in the department of nutrition at Loma Linda University School of Public Health.  She also serves as the ICVN’s Scientific Program Chair.  Along with Dr. Rajaram, alumna Krystal Boyce, MPH, RD served as executive coordinator for the conference.

Most notably, however, is Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH, professor in the department of nutrition and ICVN conference chair.  Dr. Sabaté has served as chair for the ICVN  four times; in 1997, 2002, 2008 and most recently 2013.  He has been influential in helping establish the scientific evidence of the health benefits of vegetarian diets.  Dr. Sabaté served as the principal architect of the Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid released at the 3rd International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition.  Along with his involvement with the ICVN, Dr. Sabaté also served as principal investigator in a nutrition research study that directly linked the consumption of walnuts to significant reductions in serum cholesterol.  Bringing the research full circle, Archives of Internal Medicine has recently published the findings of Dr. Sabaté’s pooled analysis of 25 intervention trials establishing the benefits of nut consumption on blood lipid levels and lowering the risk of heart disease.  Dr. Sabaté continues to research the relationship of almonds, pecans, and walnuts to heart disease risk factors.  He is also interested in diet and its impacts on the environment.  Dr. Sabaté describes the main objective of the ICVN as learning about how “plant-based diets affect people, populations and the planet.”  For three days, that’s exactly what was covered in a variety of forums.  Experts from all over the world presented many different ideas and topics all relating to vegetarian nutrition.

Rosalind Gibson, PhD, Research Professor from  the department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago, New Zealand gave a lecture entitled “Is iron and zinc nutrition a concern for vegetarian infants and young children?”

William S. Harris, PhD, a Senior Scientist at Health Diagnostic Laboratory

Research and  Professor at the Sanford School of Medicine, University of South Dakota gave a lecture entitled “Achieving adequate n-3 fatty acid status: How to go about it?”  Dr. Harris is also president and CEO of OmegaQuant.

Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, Professor, Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health lectured on “Nut consumption, body weight and obesity.”

Dr. Timothy Key, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology Unit and Diet expert at Cancer Research UK and Group Head / PI, presented three lectures.  Updates and findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest study on vegetarians outside of Loma Linda University.  Dr. Key also participated in a panel titled “self-defined vegetarian status: Usefulness and validity.”

Our very own Gary Fraser, PhD, MPH, Associate Dean of Research

and Professor of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Population Medicine at the School of Public Health in Loma Linda University, who is also a practising cardiologist at LLUMC, and Director of the Adventist Health Study (AHS), presented an update on the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2), developed out of the AHS.  Dr. Fraser noted that we are now beginning analyses and publications, looking for effects of diet on risk of common cancers.  Dr. Fraser also gave a lecture on the strengths and weaknesses of defining a dietary pattern, such as vegetarianism, based only on the presence or absence of one to two groups of foods. Proceedings from the congress are published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The 6th ICVN also featured a vegetarian culinary adventure, a food demonstration  that was put on by Chefs Cory Gheen and Betty Crocker, MPH, RD with Wendy Bazilion, DrPH, MA, RD.  The demonstration explored vegetarian recipes based on research findings presented at the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition. The congress was sponsored by Loma Linda University Health and the California Walnut Commission, among others.

The 7th ICVN will take place in February, 2018.


Dr. Joan Sabate