Keto… paleo… intermittent fasting. Is your workforce jumping from one popular diet to the next as they search for an eating style to help them feel their best? Consider this: whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) nutrition is getting more attention as research underscores its health and sustainability payoffs.
Is your population aware of this eating style, already on board, or ready to give it a try?
The concept — and practice — of food as preventive medicine is gaining traction; more healthcare providers and scientists are steering consumers away from animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) and toward WFPB. We’ll explore the science behind this approach and ideas for bringing it into the workplace.
It’s About Well-Being
Wait a minute, some might say… you’ll have to pry the Philly cheesesteak out of my cold, dead hand. Truth is, it may come to that sort of unfortunate end for many of our coworkers and loved ones. Mounting evidence points to the gravely ill effects of eating large quantities of animal products and the remarkable benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet.
A few highlights:
- Eating more plant-based and less animal-based meals may reduce risk of insulin resistance, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. It’s also linked with a significantly lower risk of stroke.
- Compared to those eating animal products, people choosing vegetarian/vegan diets generally have considerably lower total and LDL cholesterol as well as reduced risk of ischemic heart disease and cancer.
- When calorie intake is the same, greenhouse gas emissions are significantly less for plant-based vs. meat-based diets.
Helping to lessen the severity of climate change and preventing diseases are clear benefits of WFPB diets. But people with chronic conditions who switch to this eating pattern also have a lot to gain. Studies find this group often sees a substantial improvement in symptoms and clinical markers; with provider guidance, some can even reduce or discontinue medications. It’s no wonder the American College of Lifestyle Medicine promotes this diet and understandable that Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care organization in the US, encourages their providers to prescribe it.
Learn more about the documented benefits of a WFPB diet in Recommended Resources below.
Reaching the Plant-Resistant
Interested in promoting WFPB nutrition to employees and families? As with any effective workplace well-being campaign, there’s an art to communicating new ideas, recommendations, and practices.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Emphasize inclusion and respect. Food choices are personal. Some may interpret even the most neutral, friendly messaging as judgmental, especially when what you’re promoting is a radical departure from regional, cultural, or individual preferences and traditions. Start by acknowledging that a WFPB diet isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK… but that absolutely everyone is welcome to participate to the degree they’d like and see what they think.
- Confirm it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even cutting back on meat, dairy, and eggs and eating more WFPB foods is beneficial. That’s a vital message to share. Yes, switching to a completely plant-based diet appears to offer the greatest health and climate advantages, but there are still benefits from working plant-based foods into your meal plan if you want to keep eating animal products. For some, a gradual, partial switch may be more appealing and realistic.
- Don’t call it a vegetarian or vegan challenge. That’s an automatic turn-off for a lot of people, so avoid using these charged and stigmatized terms. Whole-food, plant-based is your best bet for neutral messaging that can spark interest without fueling misperception or judgment.
- Focus on feeling your best. A WFPB diet isn’t just about preventing and alleviating serious medical problems; it’s mostly about living your best life now; having the energy to fully enjoy the things you love, whether it’s hiking, teaching adults to read, or playing soccer with your kids or grandkids. Underscore the positive.
Whether or not you’re ready to launch a coordinated WFPB campaign, you can introduce this vibrant nutrition message.
These 9 strategies will support those wanting to dive right in and inspire others ready to stick a toe in the water:
- Offer CSA delivery. Find consumer-supported agriculture vendors to deliver weekly shares of farm-fresh produce right to the workplace, making it effortless for employees to get a variety of local fruits and veggies.
- Cultivate an onsite garden. Be creative… a garden doesn’t require much space; tending it is a great way for employees to relax. If you have a cafeteria, see if staff can use the harvest in preparing daily fare. A number of employers already offer onsite gardens (Google® it).
- Put WFPB foods on the menu. Add a rotating schedule of new and interesting WFPB dishes to highlight in coordination with wellness promotions.
- Make social support easy. Create an internal message board or social media group where people can post WFPB experiments, successes, favorite recipes, and cookbooks.
- Launch a veggie/fruit of the week campaign. Put the spotlight on lesser-known produce items, complete with selection tips, serving ideas, recipes, and menu suggestions.
- Invite testimonials. Ask people making the transition from animal-based to WFPB to share lessons learned, well-being results, new favorite foods, etc.
- Point to onsite and digital resources. Offer links to cooking demo videos on your program website; collect WFPB cookbooks, magazines, and other resources for employees to check out.
- Hold a Green Your Plate contest. Challenge small groups to come up with the most delicious, most local WFPB meal or some variation on this theme. It could be online with photos, or an actual prepared meal for judges to sample and award prizes.
- Eat for Earth Day. Use a virtual or IRL display to illustrate the positive impact of WFPB eating on climate change. Hold a guess what drawing and give away fresh produce or coupons for free WFPB meals.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sustainability of Plant-Based Diets
- Forks Over Knives, Plant-Based Primer
- Kaiser Permanente, Plant-Based Diet
- The Many Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
- Plant-Based Diets: A Physician’s Guide
Well-being consultant, educator, writer ｜ICHWC National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach ｜ACSM Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist ｜Lifestyle medicine advocate ｜25+ years in wellness ｜Jazz enthusiast.