How To Start a Plant-Based Diet as a Nurse

How To Start a Plant-Based Diet as a Nurse

Moxie Scrubs
5 minute read

How To Start a Plant-Based Diet as a Nurse

Written by Sarah Villavicencio BSN, RN

Nurses are so good at caring for others. They seem to intuitively know when others need support and are experts at educating to optimize health. Turning that same expertise around and using it for themselves will do wonders for creating a healthier and happier life. There are so many options for living a healthier lifestyle. Have you ever considered transitioning to a plant-based diet as a way to improve your health?

According to the AHA, eating a diet lower in meat decreases the risk of:

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Obesity

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Many cancers

Additional benefits of a plant-based diet include decreased inflammation and improved gut health. Chronic inflammation is thought to be a trigger for autoimmune disease and plants are known to contain nutrients that decrease inflammation. There is also a growing body of evidence that a healthy gut microbiome promotes mental wellness, and a study by NCBI highlights the importance of having a healthy gut microbiome for those with anxiety and depression.

If you are interested in a plant-based diet, but aren’t sure where to begin, learning more about different diets, making a plan, and exploring options can help get you started.  

Types of plant-based eating

There are several plant-based eating options and you can choose one that is right for you. The primary goal of changing your diet is to lead a healthier life, so you don't have to be a full-fledged vegetarian. Some of the most popular plant-based diets include:

  • Vegan - No animal or animal by-products are consumed

  • Lacto Vegetarian - No meat, fish, or eggs are consumed, but dairy products are allowed

  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian - No meat or fish are consumed, but allows for eggs and dairy products

  • Pescatarian - Fish and seafood are eaten, but no meats

  • Flexitarian - Mainly plant-based, but allows for occasionally eating meat

Start gradually with the foods you know.

Transitioning to plant-based eating may be easier than you think, but sudden changes to your diet may leave you feeling overwhelmed, unsatisfied, and missing some of your favorite foods. Gradually increasing the amount of plant-based foods over time will support a change in diet,  making it easier to form new habits. Adding one plant-based food to one meal per day, such as a fruit with breakfast, or swapping dairy milk with a plant-based alternative is a simple way to start. By repeating this process every three to four days, you can gradually incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet. If this approach feels too slow, try adding one more plant-based food to each meal you eat until you reach your new dietary goals. 

You know what foods you like best, right? While increasing the amount of plant-based foods, start with the foods you already enjoy. This strategy sets you up for success by aligning your goals with your preferences, and decreases decision-making.

Alternatives to meat protein

Be intentional about replacing animal protein with plant-based proteins. Start by cutting your animal protein serving in half and replacing it with  a plant-based protein, or simply try a meal with a plant-based protein as the star. You may be surprised to find how many alternatives there are such as:

  • Beans - black, pinto, cannellini

  • Lentils - red, green, brown

  • Soy - tofu, tempeh, edamame

  • Grains - oats, quinoa, millet

  • Nuts - almonds, peanuts, cashews

  • Seeds - sunflower, hemp, chia, flax

  • Meat substitutes 

The great news about plant-based proteins is that they are readily available in stores and come in a variety of options: dried, canned, or ready to eat.

Planning and preparation

Planning out meals and snacks will help you be successful with plant-based eating. It allows you to keep track of your progress by increasing the quantity of plant-based items in your diet and limiting spur-of-the-moment food choices. With a food plan, you can choose food preparation days that don't conflict with your busy nursing shifts and create a shopping list to ensure you have all of the right ingredients for your meals and snacks.


Once you’ve upped the quantity of plant-based foods with those you like and you start feeling adventurous, the real fun begins! You will be able to explore new foods or new ways to prepare old favorites. Nurses love food and there’s always talk at the nurse’s station about the latest and greatest recipes. During one of my shifts, my coworkers might have been at work in medical scrubs, but were raving about two vegetarian blogs, Cookie and Kate and Love and Lemons. I have done quite a lot of exploring and haven’t found a recipe on either of these blogs that I didn’t like. There are numerous other resources available for discovering recipes and preparation techniques. So many ways to prepare foods and combine flavors exist, the options are endless! 

Plant-based diets have so many associated health benefits - decreasing risks for heart disease, decreasing inflammation, and supporting a healthy gut microbiome. The positive effects can leave nurses with increased energy and improved mental health to meet the demands of their jobs and living healthier lives.

Author Bio

Sarah Villavicencio BSN, RN is a freelance writer and owner of Sound Writing Solutions. She is based in Seattle with over 22 years of pediatric clinical nursing experience and a passion for education. When not at work, she enjoys family time, long walks and smelling the salty sea air.

« Back to Blog