This article was adapted from a publication in the Indiana Nurses Bulletin Feb-Apr 2021.
Almost 2500 years ago Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” (Smith, 2004). These words are still relevant today.
The leading causes of death in the United States from disease are heart disease, followed by cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. (National Center of Health Statistics, 2021, March 1). Diabetes is increasing at a rapid rate in the US. (Diabetes Research Institute, 2020).
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are over 20,000 prescription drug products approved for marketing (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2018).
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2015–2016 shows 45.8% of the U.S. population uses prescription drugs (Martin, et al., 2019). Nearly 40% of older adults take five or more prescription drugs. All medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription medications, may have side effects, including nausea, fever, chills, headaches, itching, wheezing, tightness in the chest, vomiting, red and irritated eyes, and the list goes on. Pharmaceutical companies are the ones that benefit the most from people being sick.
Is it possible that some chronic diseases could be prevented or reversed through nutrition?
There has been extensive research for well over 40 years showing how food can be used to treat and sometimes reverse, many chronic diseases. Campbell and Campbell (2006), Esselstyn (2008), McDougall (2013), Greger (2015), and Barnard (2020) have all discussed this in their publications.
Their research shows that plant-based nutrition prevents and reverses heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers; decreases cholesterol and reduces blood sugar levels; decreases obesity and complications from being overweight; improves mood, sleep, energy, depression, and anxiety; reverses many chronic diseases; and, increases work productivity.
In a research study conducted at 10 corporate locations in the U.S., those participants practicing plant-based nutrition (PBN) showed improvement in body weight, blood sugar levels, and emotional state, including depression and anxiety (Agarwal et al., 2015).
In another study, diets that were higher in plant foods and lower in animal foods were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a general population, and, the longer the participants adhered to a healthy plant-based diet, the lower their risk of cardiovascular disease (Esselstyn et al., 2014).
Research shows that obese patients who followed a plant-based diet had more weight loss compared to those who followed a vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet that included dairy, eggs, fish, or meat at two-month and six-month intervals (Turner-McGrievy et al., 2015).
What specifically is plant-based nutrition (PBN)? What does it include?
Vegetables – dark greens, dark yellows and orange, sweet potato, etc.
Whole Grains – pasta, rice, corn, whole grain bread, tortilla, etc.
Fruit – whole fruit which is better than juice due to fiber
Legumes – beans, peas, lentils, tofu, soymilk, chickpeas, etc.
Nuts and seeds
Limited processed foods
Avoiding oil, flour, and sugar
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (2021), there are over 3 million nurses, therefore it seems we could make a dramatic change in health care for people in the U.S. if we shared information about plant-based nutrition. Nurses work in a wide variety of settings including hospitals (state, local and private), ambulatory clinics, outpatient offices, home healthcare, regulatory agencies, organizations, schools, residential care, and more.
I have conducted several 21-day plant-based programs utilizing the free, online Kickstart Program published by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (2021). The results were published in the American Journal of Nursing (Evans et al., 2017) and the Holistic Nursing Association Journal. Laboratory data were collected and analyzed and it found that several participants lowered their cholesterol by as much as 59 points within a 21-day period, while others lost weight, and reported an improvement in energy and sleep. (Evans, 2015).
In talking with nurses around the country, there seem to be many reasons nurses do not share information about PBN. Some of the primary reasons reported include nurses feel they do not know enough and were worried they could not answer the patient’s questions; they thought it was too difficult; did not know whom to refer patients to; thought it may be too expensive to adhere to a PBN diet; and, thought patients may not be interested (Evans, 2020).
When I spoke with nurses around the U.S., they shared that this form of nutritional information was not presented to them in nursing schools. All the nurses who interviewed for my book, Cultivating Seeds of Health with Plant-Based Nutrition, Nurses Share Educational Approaches to Prevent and Reverse Chronic Disease (Evans, 2020), learned about PBN after graduation from their nursing programs. Some learned about it after their own illness and others when a family member became ill.
Several nurses saw their patients taking the recommended medications, and they were still not getting well. Others recognized that “everything in moderation” was not working. Another group of nurses read the China Study (2006) or saw the movie Forks Over Knives, both of which convinced them that PBN was the way to treat many chronic diseases (Evans, 2020).
Once nurses become knowledgeable about plant-based nutrition, they have many opportunities to share this information including:
Talking with colleagues about plant-based nutrition
Having plant-based food at all meetings and conferences
Hosting monthly potlucks or lunches with colleagues and community groups
Showing movies on PBN and discuss the information provided
Asking more detailed questions about nutrition on intakes with patients including:
How many fruits did you eat in the past 24-48 hours?
How many vegetables did you eat in the past 24-48 hours?
How many portions of dairy food did you eat in the past 24-48 hour?
How many portions of meat did you eat in the past 24-48 hours?
Have them complete a nutritional assessment - http://4leafsurvey.com
Having discharge and care plans include plant-based nutrition
Requesting PBN guest speakers in educational settings for undergraduate and graduate-level nursing programs
Incorporating PBN into all discussions about chronic diseases
Collaborating with other health care providers interested in plant-based nutrition.
Encouraging hospitals to have plant-based foods at all meals
Hosting a free online 10-day plant-based program:
hosting a free 21-day (PCRM) online plant-based program – including menus, recipes, cooking classes, and additional Information - https://kickstart.pcrm.org/en
There are several groups available for nurses interested in learning more about plant-based nutrition. PCRM hosts the Nurses Nutrition Network which provides educational programs for nurses. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine has a nurse support group and provides educational presentations open to all nurses.
There are over 462,000 nurses in California. Our patients need to have a choice on how they will resolve their chronic health issues, and nurses are well-positioned to educate patients on nutritional options to help prevent and possibly reverse many chronic diseases. Patients should be given all the options to make an educated decision about their health. Sometimes it starts with medications, while they are making nutrition and lifestyle changes. Eventually, it may be the nutritional changes that reverse the chronic disease process. Nurses have an opportunity to educate people to be healthier in California. Let 2021 be the year of change!
Some examples of breakfast might be the following:
Cold cereal – with soymilk or rice milk with peaches, berries or another fruit
Whole grain toast with jam and fruit
Oatmeal with non-dairy milk with cinnamon and raisins
Blueberry buckwheat pancakes and meat-free bacon
For lunch, you might consider:
Veggie burger with whole-grain bun and salad
Bean burrito, fruit
Soy yogurt, fruit, vegetable soup, whole wheat bread
Hummus wrap with whole wheat pita, shredded carrots, cucumber, tomato
Some options for dinner might include:
Black bean chili with cornbread, salad, greens Whole grain pasta marinara with mixed vegetables, salad
Fajitas with peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans, broccoli
Beans and rice with salsa, corn, salad
Resources for learning about plant-based nutrition are the following:
Davis, B., & Vesanto, M. (2013). Becoming Vegan, Express Edition: The Everyday Guide to Plant-based Nutrition, Book Pub Co.
Campbell, T.C., & Campbell,T. (2004). The China Study. Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health. BenBella Books.
Greger, M., & Stone, G. (2015). How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically to Prevent and Reverse Disease. Flatiron Books.
Greger, M. (2019). How Not to Diet. Flatiron Books.
McDougall, J. (2013). The Starch Solution. Rodale Books.
Barnard, N. (2018). The Vegan Starter Kit: Everything You Need to Know About Plant Based Eating. Grand Central Publishing.
Esselstyn, C. (2007). Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Avery Publishing.
Barnard, N, Burton, D. (2018). Dr. Neal Barnard's Cookbook for Reversing Diabetes: 150 Recipes Scientifically Proven to Reverse Diabetes Without Drugs. Rodale Books.
Campbell, L (2018). The China Study Cookbook. Benbella Books.
Esselstyn, R., Esselstyn, J. (2017). Engine 2 Cookbook. Grand Central Publishing.
Sroufe, D., Moskowitz, I., Hever, J., Thacker, D., & Micklewright, J.(2012). Forks Over Knives―The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year. The Experiment.
Barnard, N. (2010). The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook: 125 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Jump-Start Weight Loss and Help You Feel Great. Da Capo Lifelong Books. ● Greger, M. (2017). How Not to Diet Cookbook. Flatiron Books.
McDougall, J., & McDougall, M. (1999). The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook: Over 300 Delicious Low-Fat Recipes You Can Prepare in Fifteen Minutes or Less. Plume Publishing.
Esselstyn, A., & Esselstyn, J. (2014). Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook. Avery Publishers.
Dr. Greger - https://nutritionfacts.org - updated research on nutrition and disease – many short videos
American College of Lifestyle - https://www.lifestylemedicine.org
Dr. McDougall - www.drmcdougall.com – free newsletters, testimonials, current research, Starch Based Solution Certificate Program, 10-day residential programs • Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine - www.pcrm.org – free monthly Kickstart programs, newsletters, current research, multiple languages, and handouts for offices
Forks Over Knives - https://www.forksoverknives.com/ - recipes, plant-based news, meal plans, success stories, and cooking courses
Plantrician Project - https://plantricianproject.org/vision - list of plant-based doctors, peer-review journal, conferences, cooking class, research, and more
21-Day Vegan Kickstart – PCRM
Dr. McDougall Mobile Cookbook
Forks Over Knives
Michael Greger - Dr. Gregers’ Daily Dozen
Plant-based movies include:
Forks Over Knives – especially for diabetes, heart disease, and chronic health issues
Code Blue – focusing on medical training and health care system
Game Changers- focus on vegan athletes
Cowspiracy – focus on the environment
Food Inc – food supply and industry
Eating You Alive - food connected to chronic disease
Meat the Truth - livestock farming and the environment
Joanne Evans MEd, RN, PMHCNS is an advanced practice nurse and has been practicing for almost 50 years. She is certified in plant-based nutrition by 2 national organizations and has been a speaker at many national, state, and local nursing conferences. She has published on this topic in several journals in nursing organizations. She recently published Cultivating Seeds of Health With Plant Based Nutrition, Nurses Share Educational Approaches to Prevent and Reverse Chronic Disease which is available on Amazon.
She can be reached at email@example.com.
This article was adapted from a publication in the Indiana Nurses Bulletin Feb-Apr 2021.
Agarwal, S., Mishra, S., X., J., Levin, S., & Barnard, N.D. (2015). A multicenter randomized controlled trial of a nutrition intervention program in a multiethnic adult population in the corporate setting reduces depression and anxiety and improves quality of life: The GEICO Study. American Journal of Health Promotion, 29(4), 245-5.
American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2021). Nursing fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.aacnnursing.org/news-Information/fact-sheets/nursing-fact-sheet Barnard, N. (2020). Your body in balance: The new science, of food, hormones, and health. Grand Central Publishing.
Campbell, T. C., & Campbell, T. (2006). The China study. Benbella books. Diabetes Research Institute. (2020), Diabetes Statistics. Retrieved from
Esselstyn, C.B. Gendy, G., Doyle, J., Golubic, M., & Roizen, M. F. (2014). A way to reverse CAD? Journal of Family Practice; 63(7):356-64.
Esselstyn, C. (2008). Prevent and reverse heart disease. Avery Publishing. Evans, J. (2015). Plant-based nutrition: Will the next prescription be from the farmers market or the pharmacy. American Journal of Holistic Nursing, 35(2):28-9.
Evans, J. (2020). Cultivating seeds of health with plant-based nutrition: Nurses share educational approaches to prevent and reverse chronic disease. https://www.amazon.com/Cultivating-Seeds-Health-Plant-based-Nutrition/dp/B08GFSYGJJ
Evans, J., Magee, A., Dickman, K., Sutter, R., & Sutter, C. (2017, March). A plant-based program – nurses experience the benefits and challenges of following a plant-based diet. American Journal of Nursing, 117(3), 56-61.
Greger, M. (2015). How not to diet. Flatiron Books
Martin, C.B., Hales, C.M., Gu, Q., & Ogden, C.L. (2019). Prescription drug use in the United States, 2015–2016. (Issue Brief No. 334). NCHS Data Brief. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db334.htm
McDougall, J. (2013). The Starch solution. Rodale Books.
National Center of Health Statistics. (2021, March 1) Leading Causes of Death. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). (2021). Start your journey to health. https://kickstart.pcrm.org.
Smith, R. (2004). Let food be thy medicine. British Medical Association. 328(7433). https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC318470/
Turner-McGrievy, G.M., Davidson, C. R., Wingard, E. E., Wilcox, S., & Frongillo, E. A. (2015). Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition, 31(2), 350-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut. 2014.09.002
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Fact Sheet – FDA at a glance. https://www.fda.gov/ about-fda/fda-basics/fact-sheet-fda-glance