It has been shown that the best way to promote a healthy diet is by following one yourself. By adopting a whole-food plant-based (WFPB) diet, clinicians were able to better educate their patients on the health benefits of the diet, including reducing the risk for chronic diseases, according to study results published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
To help improve clinicians’ knowledge and promotion of a WFPB diet, healthcare providers practicing in Northern Colorado participated in a free online program that provided a weekly email that included 4 presentations: the definition of WFPB diets; a review of the evidence; nutritional considerations; and advice and resources to incorporate WFPB diets into practice and life. Participants completed online questionnaires to assess knowledge, dietary intake, quality of life, benefits and barriers to adopting and counseling patients about WFPB diets, and self-efficacy knowledge and counseling before and after the project.
A total of 13 nurse practitioners (NPS), 14 registered nurses (RNs), and 3 physicians were enrolled in the program. The majority were women (n=29) and worked at least 30 hours per week (n=24). At the end of the program, the largest dietary changes reported by clinicians included a 174% increase in legume servings and an 86% decline in meat servings per week. Only 1 participant reported consuming meat daily after the intervention. Nearly all participants (93%) reported consuming vegetables daily after intervention and 83% reported daily fruit intake.
Statistically significant changes occurred in pain, energy, weight loss, and sleep measurements before and after the program. For mood and energy, the composite mean score increased by 15.05 points, with the largest changes in energy (an improvement of 20 points) and feeling tired or worn out (an improvement of 24.67 points). Reported weight decreased slightly (mean loss, 0.96 pounds). Additional benefits included no longer feeling sluggish following meals, improvement in dry eyes, and improved bowel function. The overall benefit score was 0.60 points (P <.001).
A decline was also seen in the overall barrier score before and after the program (−0.25, P =.003). The decrease in perceived barriers in adopting a more plant-based diet included time constraints, difficulty cooking meals, lack of meal planning skills, nutritional concerns, and personal eating preferences. Gastrointestinal discomfort and being ill remained barriers after the intervention.
Most clinicians (73%) found that the WFPB diet was easy to follow and 67% were somewhat or very likely to continue following the diet.
Prior to the intervention, counseling barriers included inadequate scientific evidence; lack of knowledge, patient support, or professional guidelines; low perceived ability; not having enough time; and considering the diet to be unrealistic or too complex for the patient. All of these barriers declined significantly, with an overall decrease of 0.85 points (P <.001) Lack of knowledge was the primary barrier at the beginning of the program and showed the greatest decline to become the lowest of all barriers post-intervention (−1.83, P <.001).
After the intervention, most participants were somewhat (47%) or very (40%) likely to talk to their patients about the benefits of a WFPB diet. None of the participants said that they were “not at all likely” to talk to their patients about the dietary pattern.
“This project showed the potential and importance of providers adopting healthful dietary behaviors themselves to be best suited to counsel their patients on such topics,” the investigators concluded.
Lessem A, Gould SM, Evans J, Dunemn K. A whole-food plant-based experiential education program for health care providers results in personal and professional changes [published online October 1, 2019]. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. doi:10.1097/JXX.0000000000000305