Nurses are integral in the care of patients and their health. Exploring a plant-based diet may be beneficial to patients so they can take back their health. It is time for health care disciplines to be aware of a plant-based diet and to dispel any myths that exist. In fact, a plant-based diet is not a diet—it can be viewed as a way of life. A plant-based diet are foods consumed that is devoid of animal ingredients, such as dairy and meats. A plant-based diet relies on foods that are grown from the ground such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and seeds.
People are living longer, but we are also living with more chronic diseases, with heart disease being at the top of the list. Heart disease, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia are contributors to sickness where medicine is the answer. Health care providers tell patients to lose weight by restricting food intake. While patients may see results initially, they usually do not adhere to this long term as it is not sustainable for them for a variety of reasons. In addition to that, the medications with their side effects usually do not highlight many benefits. One-third of animal products in the American diet are very concentrated in calories and are deficient in antioxidants and vitamins. Needless to say, the vast majority of chronic illness is highly correlated to what we eat. There is a different biological effect of meat versus plant-based protein such as beans. The body can store these amino acids and complete them without overshooting the hormone, Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IGF 1). On the contrary, processed foods and meats produce a lot of IGF1 where insulin ends up storing a lot of fat. It is also attributable to cancer and inflammation.
People have long touted the benefits of a plant-based diet. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams reversed his diabetes Type 2 due to a plant-based diet. He was already suffering from nerve damage as a result of his disease with a hemoglobin A1C of 17 (anything over 6.5% is considered diabetic), so his was very high and the doctor was surprised that he was not in a coma. Adams was placed on medications, but he also sought the help of Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., the same doctor who treated Bill Clinton and author of the book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. He was informed by doctors that he would be on insulin for the rest of his life. He was placed on medicine for his acid reflux, medicine for his high cholesterol, and medicine for his burning and tingling of his hands and feet. His family is diabetic and was told that it runs in his family.
This past August, there was a launch of a plant-based lifestyle program at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Doctors, nurses, dieticians, and life coaches will help at least 100 patients across all five boroughs adopt healthy eating patterns focused on legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while reducing animal products, fried foods, refined grains, and added sugars. Michelle McMacken, director of NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue Adult Weight Management Program, is director of the program.
At Montefiore Hospital, Dr. Robert Ostfeld spearheaded the Cardiac Wellness Program where plant-based nutrition is the prescription for management of cardiac disease. The population most affected by these diseases are non-white populations. Dr. Kim Williams, past President of the American College of Cardiology, advocates for a plant-based diet for heart disease prevention. Affronted with a high cholesterol, he decided to take measures into his own hands, and adopt a plant-based diet.
While medical doctors are beginning to advocate this lifestyle, nurses should also set an example of this lifestyle approach. Nurses are part of the health care discipline and minority nurses, especially, need to set an example. We want patients to take control of their lives. We can teach patients eating a plant-based diet instead of a standard American diet, as a form of primary prevention. Like any diet, it may take time to adjust, but this is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle. Patients would need to make an informed decision as to whether they would want to incorporate it into their lifestyle or not. There is enough supportive evidence out there that a patient can access such as documentaries, “Fork Over Knives” and “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” There are a variety of resources, including the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program, to include in dietary prescriptions to help patients treat and prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. This will require support from the patient’s primary provider, and, whether the provider is an advocate of this lifestyle or not, it should be considered. Benefits such as less medication, weight loss, and improvements in mood as well as cholesterol have been shown. Dispel the myths about a plant-based diet and protein.
This is a plea as something to consider to take better care of ourselves and take control of our lives. There have been many initiatives and programs to lose weight. Drastic measures have also occurred due to the outcomes of being overweight, such as drastic surgery and restrictions from carbohydrates. Patients are sometimes misinformed and have to get rid of the idea that medications will solve the problem—it only delays the problem. There is a possibility of reversing diabetes and cardiac disease. This is a decision that the person has to make: continue with their lifestyle with animal protein and processed carbohydrates or see a reduction in their overall weight and health by incorporating a plant-based diet.
A plant-based diet may be considered “extreme” by some people in altering their lifestyle. But given the choice between a plant-based diet or open=heart surgery, it can be posed to the patient which one they consider as extreme. Again, it is a personal choice, an evaluation of familial and cultural values would be assessed to fit the needs of the patient. Surgery can be viewed as a band-aid in that it will manage the symptoms temporarily unless the patient alters their lifestyle. Of course, it helps if the patient has a supportive network to embrace the lifestyle. It can start off as small, simple steps, as little as incorporating a plant-based meal in their day and slowly add these meals to their lifestyle. There are vegan starter kits to kick a healthier you.
A recent study linking diets heavy in junk food and cancer likely gave nurses everywhere pause. Although nurses see the health problems brought on by poor diet choices every day, educating patients and changing their habits is tough.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed PLOS journal found that a diet heavy in junk food was linked with increased cancer rates. Using Nutri-Score, a food labeling system used in parts of Britain and Europe, researchers were able to identify that diets with an overall lower score for nutritional value was associated with increased cancer and other health problems.
Nutri-Score uses different scores and color labels depending on the nutritional quality of foods. At a glance, consumers can identify how nutritious a food is. According to the study, those who consumed the most junk food had “higher risks of cancers of the colon-rectum, upper aerodigestive tract and stomach, lung for men, and liver and postmenopausal breast for women.”
How can nurses use this study to help their patients? While many patients know the risks of a poor diet, they don’t often identify certain foods as less nutritious as others. What’s the difference between stopping for a fast-food burger than making one at home? The difference can be significant based on the choices, but sometimes it has to be explained.
Nurses are in an excellent position to help patients understand that even small tweaks to their food choices and preparation can make a significant difference in their health. Just on the most basic level, meals made at home tend to have less fat and sodium. A burger at home can be made with a leaner ground beef and accompanied by a salad (bagged salads are easy), a piece of fruit, and oven baked fries. It takes some preparation and planning, but even if the swap is made a couple of times a month, the health benefits will add up.
The study was able to adjust for other factors such as family history, lower physical activity, and higher BMI that can also influence cancer rates. Food choices are such an important part of health and one that can be adapted in small doses. Nurses can help patients assess their food intake and show them where small swaps like popcorn for chips, flavored seltzer and juice for soda, or salsa for onion dip can add up.
Patients might also benefit from hearing about fitting more nutritional foods into their diets. Junk food and cancer might be associated, but intake of junk food is controllable. No one has to give up pizza night, but adding vegetables (either on the pizza or as a side salad) will boost the overall nutrition for the meal. A breakfast of cereal gets a boost from a handful of berries. Even using a store-bought prepared chicken as the basis for an at-home meal will give you more control over the total portion, calories, and flavors.
And as a busy nurse, it can help to take some of the ideas to heart. Consider your eating habits and how you might be able to add and subtract to get more bang for your buck. Bring foods to work that are easy and fast to eat, but offer as much nutrition as possible. You’ll find doing so gives you more energy, keeps you feeling full longer, and might even help regulate your fatigue levels, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, or stress.
If you’re able to notice a few positive changes, you’ll be the best champion of making nutritional changes for your patients. And if they are trying to eat better to gain control over their health now and in the future, each small boost in nutritional food is worthwhile.
As a nurse practitioner student, I completed my clinical rotation in a rural and underserved clinic in the southeastern United States. Overwhelmingly, I treated patients that suffered from chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Initially, the volume of patients that suffered from mostly preventable conditions perplexed me because many of the patients verbalized the potential adverse effects and complications. Yet, they continued to eat an unhealthy diet. Infamously, the South is known for higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Certainly, I can attest to that statement since a majority of the patients that presented to the clinic experienced at least one of those conditions. So one day, I finally mustered up some courage and asked an older African American gentleman why he snubbed the idea of implementing healthier food choices. Amazingly, he admitted that he had no desire to change his diet because the food symbolized his heritage and doing away with soul food denounced his upbringing.
Because of his sentiments, I decided to research food and its subsequent influence on culture in African American communities. Through my investigation, I stumbled across a dynamic and enlightening documentary entitled Soul Food Junkies, and it explored the significance of traditional food within the African American community. Byron Hurt, director and principal actor, eloquently merged a multi-layered story that explored the significance of traditional food in the African American community and most importantly his family. After watching this short film, I gained incredible knowledge regarding the traditions of family and togetherness that are embodied in the preparation and consumption of soul food. So, as a clinician, I have expanded my cultural competence; as a result, I will cultivate and encourage new recipes that symbolize the traditions but utilizes healthier ingredients. If you are interested in discovering modified soul food recipes, click on the links below.
Also for your viewing pleasure, I have included a link to the full documentary Soul Food Junkies. Click the link below. Thanks for checking out this post! Check us out every day to gain the newest scoop in the nursing world. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. I am looking forward to hearing from you!
Whoa there Nelly! It’s Halloween, the start of a three-month long season that’s almost guaranteed to add eight pounds of adipose tissue to everyone, especially those with weak willpower. Don’t you be one of the unthinking nurses who snacks right out of your skinny jeans.
On the plus side, nurses have a lot of practice saying no to treats from well-meaning doctors, administrators, and families throughout the year. On the minus side, the opportunities to over-indulge are incredibly plentiful right about now.
Make today that first day of a strict holiday noshing policy – decide beforehand what you will and won’t treat yourself to this season, then stick to it. (Here’s a mantra one nurse repeats when she’s faced with sweet or savory goodies: “I like myself too much to eat junk.”)
Having a healthy eating mantra is just one “hack” can come in handy during the holidays. (Life-hacks are tips and tricks for making everyday parts of life run better.) Here are a few others:
Remember that you can say No to a treat today and still eat it at another time and place. Examples: Snacks and desserts at home, the homes of friends and family, at church or other places in your community. Holidays keep multiplying — Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Solstice, New Year’s Eve. And don’t forget the birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and other festive events where food is a big part of the celebration.
Here’s a counter-intuitive approach that works well for some: call a cease-fire in the battle of the bulge. On Halloween it’s almost impossible to avoid candy anyway. As long as you don’t scarf down the sweet stuff, you can partake of a few fun-sized pieces of candy (or squares of really good dark chocolate!) without busting your health goals.
Check out the calorie count in these candy favorites:
Fun-size candy bar = 80 calories
2 bite-size peanut butter cups = 90 calories
2 bite-size chocolates = 90 calories
If you know that you can’t resist a Halloween sweet stash, it may be best to buy bags of your least favorite candy for the kiddies. (Necco wafers are nobody’s favorite, so don’t make the little goblins suffer that much!)
If you end up with loads of candy after the trick-or-treaters are gone, see if your dentist is offering a candy “buy back” for patients or neighborhood kids. Donate your left-overs – often those boxes of candy get sent to troops who appreciate the sweet gesture.)
You would be smart to brush after partaking of sugary treats, to save your teeth, even if you aren’t doing your waistline any favor.
If you have steely self-discipline, you can always set out fruits, vegetables, air-popped popcorn or another super low-calorie treat.
Pass the radish-roses, please!
Jebra Turner is a writer in Portland, Oregon. She blogs about workplace health at www.anthro.com.
As a nurse, your job is to focus on the health and healing of your patients. But in order to give them the best care possible you need to take care of yourself first. You may have heard the phrase “self-care,” but what does it really mean and how can you put it into practice in your nursing career? Here are four easy ways that you can start today to enhance your self-care and ultimately enhance the care you give to your patients.
Take a Break
If at all possible, take a break during your shift and step away from your work area. Go eat lunch outside, take a quick walk or sit quietly and read. Getting away, even for 15 minutes, will help you get centered and relieve stress. Even if you don’t have time for anything more than a five minute restroom break, use that time to take deep breaths and close your eyes.
Eat High-Energy Snacks
When working long shifts, you’ll want to be sure you have plenty of healthy, high-energy snacks that are quick and easy to grab and eat. You simply cannot be a great nurse if you’re hungry or have low-energy. Keep string cheese, almonds or even a protein bar or shake handy for snacking. The protein will help ward off hunger and give you the energy you need to get through the day.
Avoid falling prey to workplace gossip or negativity. If your work environment is negative, it will have a negative impact on your emotional health. Again, use your break time for good self-care (eating a healthy meal, walking, calling a friend) instead of venting with coworkers.
Does your workplace have a gym? Is there a gym near your work or home? Regular exercise is one of the best ways to practice self care. Many healthcare organizations offer wellness and exercise classes. Be sure to actively participate. Exercise will help manage stress, keep you at a healthy weight and help fight depression.
Which positive act of self-care will you do today?