Vegan from a Nurse’s Perspective — A Case For Plant Based
As a nurse, I have educated countless patients about heart healthy diets, diabetic diets, how to lower their cholesterol and salt intake, and a broad range of other diets suited to their particular disease or disorder. Regrettably, I never educated them about the multitude of benefits that come from eating a vegan diet. Until now. This is veganism from a nurse’s perspective.
The nursing profession implements procedures using evidence based practice. We also educate our patients with facts and provide research to back it up. That way you, the patient, can make an informed decision. I personally believe a vegan plant based diet is the healthiest option, but it is up to you to decide for yourself.
If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you read 24 Health Benefits of Eating A Plant Based Diet. It provides more in depth explanations and study findings that are the backbone of why I promote a plant based diet.
Unlike animal foods (such as meat, dairy, and eggs), whole plant based foods are low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. By lowering your cholesterol, you decrease your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease-the number one killer in America.
Most doctors recommend a cholesterol level below 200 mg/dL. However, studies have found that one out of every four persons who have a heart attack has a blood cholesterol level between 180 and 210 mg/dL. ( Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn). Furthermore, more than a third of patients with heart disease showed cholesterol levels between 150 and 200 mg/dL ( Framingham Heart Study.)
So while the majority of the medical community recommends total blood cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL, most physicians advocating the plant based diet recommend total blood cholesterol levels less than 150 mg/dL.
Whole Food Plant Based Diet
Unfortunately though, eating a vegan diet doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a healthy diet. There are plenty of vegan-friendly junk foods and processed foods available.
In order to get the maximum health benefits from a vegan diet, a mostly whole food plant based (WFPB) diet is best. Essentially, this is eating foods in their most natural state, and staying away from processed “junk food.”
Most people eating a WFPB diet lose weight without even counting calories. Weight loss leads to increased energy. Increased energy means you have more fuel for performing everyday tasks, including exercise. And as we all know, exercising is good for our heart and our entire body (plus it may lead to even more weight loss!)
2,000 calorie diet
Think of it in terms of 2,000 calories of fast food vs. 2,000 calories of whole plant based food:
- WFPB diet breakfast: 6 inch whole wheat tortilla, ½ cup pinto beans, 4 tablespoons salsa, ¼ cup lettuce, jalapeno, and onion. 1 cup soy milk (fortified with Vitamin D and Calcium), and 1 whole orange.
- Snack: ½ cup hummus with ½ cup baby carrots.
- Lunch: Lentil Soup: 1 cup cooked lentils, 1 cup vegetable broth, ½ cup potatoes, ½ cup parsnip, seasoned with garlic and pepper. 6 whole wheat crackers and 1 medium peach.
- Snack: 2 cups air-popped popcorn seasoned with cumin or cinnamon.
- Dinner: 4 ounces marinated and baked tofu, ½ cup brown rice, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 cup steamed sugar snap peas. 1 cup fresh raspberries and blueberries. 1 cup almond milk (fortified with Vitamin D and Calcium).
- Total intake for the entire day: 2,000 calories.
These are what we call nutrient-dense foods. Whole plant based foods are rich in nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, without a lot of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.
Nurses vegan diet study
In a 2017 experiment, in order to gain knowledge about a plant based diet and experience results firsthand, 19 nurses decided to adopt a vegan diet for 21 days. While this should certainly not be taken as conclusive findings, some of the results after 3 weeks included:
- 74% lowered their cholesterol (6 of them by 45–60 mg/dL)
- 10 of the 19 lost weight (an average of 4.4 pounds per person)
- 8 of the 19 reported feeling satisfied with their health (as opposed to only 1 before the study began)
- 30% reported an increase in energy
- After the conclusion of the study, the nurses reported an increased intake of fruits and vegetables in their diets, while consumption of meat and dairy fell.
American Heart Association
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting intake of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and red meat. While they still do recommend low fat dairy and lean meats, these two statements are inconsistent. Dairy and meat are full of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Additionally, all dairy products are processed foods.
AHA does have a vegetarian and vegan section on their website. It starts out by stating, “Eating a plant based diet every now and then can help lower your cholesterol and improve heart health.” Sorry, but “every now and then” is actually not what studies have shown.
It goes on to state, “Well, it seems that leaving out the meat is good for you.” To me, this statement says, “we know it, but we really don’t want to admit it.” Why might that be? One blatantly obvious reason is listed right there on their website. Egg Land’s Best Farm Fresh eggs are one of their national sponsors and supporters.
Then there’s the “American Heart Association certified” criteria for meat consumption on the Beef Loving Texans website.
Now, if you search for “plant based” on the AHA website, this is the first link in that list. Contrary to the section above, this article very clearly states the benefits of eating less meat or giving it up entirely.
American Diabetes Association
The most contradictory website I have ever seen in my life.
The ADA promotes recipes with meat, dairy, and eggs. Of the hundreds of recipes listed, only 23 are plant based.
Even more confusing, when describing a diabetic diet (without coming out and directly saying it), they encourage eating whole plant based foods.
“The goal is to choose carbs that are nutrient-dense, which means they are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low in added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats.”
It goes on to list the healthy whole plant based foods, even going so far as to admit there is no fiber in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
There is no money for doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies if you improve your diet, improve your health, and can eliminate the need for medications and medical interventions.
“If I put you on a pill, I could see you back every 3 months for the rest of your life. That’s how we make money in medicine. If I put you on a plant-based diet and you get better, I may never see you again.” Dr. James Bennie
American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society (ACS) website recommends reducing processed meats as much as possible and increasing intake of fruits and vegetables.
It states vegetarian diets “may be helpful in lowering cancer risk,” but does not address the benefits of a vegan diet. ACS’s only recommendation in terms of a vegan diet is to “supplement B12, zinc, and iron” and “consume enough calcium.” It makes no mention of the scientific studies linking the benefits of a plant based diet to certain types of cancers.
The “ Healthy Diet “ section on their website places an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, low in saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar, and salt. “It may include lean meats and eggs.” However, in order to promote a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, meat and dairy intake should be avoided or kept to a minimum.
In an article that specifically addresses prostate cancer, they reference one study which resulted in the slowing of cancer growth in those men who ate a vegan diet and exercised frequently. However, the paragraph concludes with the statement, “The regimen may also be hard for some men to follow.”
Now let’s get to the partners with the ACS. These include, but are not limited to: pharmaceutical companies (Merck, Lilly), medical device companies (Abbott), insurance companies (Allstate, Anthem, United Health), and meat and dairy companies (Tyson, Perdue).
It’s time that we wake up and realize insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the meat and dairy industry, and the entire healthcare system in this country all benefit financially when we eat a traditional Western diet.
Looking back through all of my old 96-pound books from nursing school, only 2 make mention of vegan diets.
The Medical-Surgical Nursing book (published in 2007-yikes I feel old!), contains one paragraph, focusing on the potential vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, and protein deficiencies that may occur with eating a vegan diet. Studies have shown, however, that with a balanced diet (and some need for supplements), this is often not an issue for healthy vegans.
The Nursing Care of Infants and Children book (also published in 2007), dedicates 4 paragraphs to discussing the different types of vegetarian diets (including a vegan diet). Again, the emphasis is on potential deficiency of iron, protein, and calcium, with no mention of the health benefits. I know plenty of people who are raising healthy, thriving children on a fully vegan diet. That being said, it’s important to consult with a pediatric nutritionist and try to find a pediatrician with a background in plant based nutrition.
It’s imperative to me that I include a section on the ethical reasons to convert to a plant based diet. As nurses, we promote compassion and uphold ethical standards. The meat and dairy industries are anything but compassionate and ethical.
Please do your research. It’s repulsive what we allow to occur in order to put meat on our dinner plates. I believe we should respect and value all life on earth, not just humans.
Don’t just take my word for it. Educate yourself. Do your research. When converting to a plant based diet, always consult with your physician and a registered dietitian. Get routine blood work done. Eat a healthy, balanced vegan diet -your body, the animals, and the planet will thank you. 🌱
Nurses Week starts tomorrow with National Nurses Day on May 6. Maybe it’s due to the coronavirus pandemic and everything our frontline heroes are enduring, but I think we all appreciate and respect nurses and all medical professionals a little bit more. They are the true warriors of this world.
I personally know how grueling it is to be a nurse. Add to that a global pandemic wreaking havoc on our healthcare system, and it becomes survival mode on a day to day basis. But I also know how deeply rewarding this job is. We do it because we love people; we desire to help them and comfort them, especially in their most terrifying days. This is the heart of a nurse. ❤️