Nurses Try Out Plant-Based Diet, Report Health Benefits

            If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?

Photo from Shutterstock.

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.

Promising Results

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.

2017-12-19T10:03:39+00:00 March 22nd, 2017|Nursing, nursing research|11 Comments

About the Author:

Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist


  1. Lee March 29, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    My husband and I made the shift to a plant-based diet because the data strongly supported it. And we experienced similar results to those described above: weight loss, lower cholesterol, and more energy. What’s more, high blood pressure runs in my husband’s family, but his BP dropped after we made the switch and has been in the healthy range ever since. Food truly is the best medicine!

  2. Meghan Jardine March 28, 2017 at 11:08 am

    The results of this study (in just 3 weeks) are amazing. If a drug could do what a plant-based eating pattern can do, it would make billions. I hope other healthcare professionals are taking note and recommending this to their patients. Great job!

  3. Maggie Neola, RD March 27, 2017 at 10:03 am

    It is so exciting to see others in the health care profession be willing to try something for their own health too! Now these nurses will be able to speak from personal experience about the benefits they had following a plant-based diet in just 3 weeks. Bravo!

  4. Charlotte G March 24, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    Would love to find a plant based Dr. Is there a resource to find one? I’m in Massachusetts

  5. Asha Subramanian March 24, 2017 at 7:08 am

    As a community family physician, I have had much success with advising patients to follow plant-based diets. More often than not, patients are far more receptive than health care professionals to lifestyle modification, which is unfortunate. This type of study, although informal, adds credence to the benefits of plant based diets by “teaching the teachers” on how enjoyable and easy it can be to follow. In fact, in my own practice, all the medical students and anyone else who will listen will hear about plant-based eating! Many patients have told me that although they may not be 100% vegan, they are “on the spectrum,” (to paraphrase Ornish) and moving towards more plant based eating. I hope to see more research and discussion about this way of treatment at all primary care conferences in the future. It is a wonderful tool in our medical toolbox and is a key cornerstone of good health.

  6. Ronald S. Banner, M.D. March 23, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    As a physician who is vegan, and who stresses the importance of what we eat to my patients, this article helps advance the fact that food can be medicine and help our bodies, through epigenetics, improve our health and better deal with diseases.

  7. Karen March 23, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    I’m excited to share this study with health care professionals and patients. The results achieved in just 3 weeks of following a plant-based diet are remarkable, and the ease in which participants achieved success is noteworthy. It is important for people making dietary changes to have support and access to information from programs such as the Kickstart.

  8. James Loomis, MD March 23, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    More evidence that food is medicine, which I will continue to “prescribe” to my patients.

  9. Jill March 23, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    As a plant-based health coach, I’m thrilled to see this article published and such a good write up of it. Huge implications for patient care.

  10. Feng-Yen Li March 23, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    As a scientist, I am so excited to see studies like these. It has great potential to promote more research into plant-based diets and change clinical practice.

  11. Susan Levin (@LuckySlevinRD) March 23, 2017 at 11:53 am

    The strengths of this study are that it is easy to administer, follow, and track. With advances in technology, we have a variety of resources, including this Kickstart program, to include in dietary prescriptions to help patients treat and prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. I like Joanne’s approach of personalizing the plant-based diet to accommodate patient needs. Whether you’re a culinary genius or can only spend five minutes in the kitchen, it’s now easier than even to make healthful, nutrient-packed, plant-based meals. The same applies to nearly all food budgets.

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