If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?
This adage, sometimes attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, reminds us that the personal choices we make are important. Drugs and procedures are unlikely to ensure continuing good health, especially if we don’t first attend to the basics. And when it comes to personal choices, nothing is quite as personal as food.
Maybe this is why some nurses and physicians are so quick to dismiss decades of promising research on the effects of meatless diets. “People will never change the way they eat; it’s not worth talking about.” But as Michael Greger, a general practitioner specializing in nutrition and an advocate for plant-based diets, once said in a lecture I attended, “That attitude may be one of the true leading causes of death and disability.”
In “A Plant-Based Nutrition Program” in this month’s AJN, Joanne Evans and colleagues describe the results of a “personal experiment” in which nurses at three faculty-led community health clinics associated with George Mason University followed a plant-based diet for three weeks. Their goals were to
- improve their nutritional expertise and understanding,
- prepare themselves to effectively advocate for patients’ positive lifestyle changes, and
- increase their awareness of the impact of healthy food choices.
The authors note that they chose to explore this particular diet because “extensive research demonstrates that following a plant-based diet can help to prevent and manage overweight and obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, in addition to improving overall well-being.”
Nineteen nurses completed the program, which included an initial lecture and discussion, an optional film, weekly webinars, and guidance from a 21-day “Kickstart” web program developed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Before and after this dietary intervention, each participant’s weight and cholesterol level were measured, and questionnaires were filled out.
This was not a formal research project, but even so, the reported results are impressive. After three weeks on a plant-based diet, participants’ mean cholesterol levels decreased from 203 mg/dL to 185 mg/dL. Six women lowered their total cholesterol levels by 40–65 mg/dL. Individual weight loss ranged from 1.5 to 9 pounds, with a mean of 4.4 pounds. Questionnaires indicated that participants increased their intake of fruits and vegetables and decreased their meat, dairy, and seafood intake. Of note, the nurses reported a dramatic increase in energy levels after three weeks on a plant-based diet.
Most impressively, participants experienced positive results even without following the dietary recommendations consistently. That is, even without rigidly adhering to a plant-based diet, the nurses lost weight, lowered their cholesterol levels, and felt better. These results remind us that even without following a “strict” diet, change in the right direction can be a powerful force for better health.
Recent research on plant-based diets is also briefly summarized in the article, which will be free until April 5.