How Plant-Based Food Is Changing Medicine

Out: Trips to the pharmacy. In: Trips to the farmer’s market. Welcome to the hospital of the near future.

Hospitals: Come for the care, leave for the food. Taste and variety aside, hospital food is slim pickings for people living with food allergies or intolerance. And patients who require tube feeding have even fewer allergen-free choices. 

Thankfully, this is beginning to change and doctors and patients are beginning to understand the profound benefits of plant-based food. In fact, many clinicians are starting to see plant-based nutrition as an extension of a patient’s treatment plan.

How plants become medicine

Clinical dietitians have long known about the health benefits of a plant-based diet for patients with cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and cancer, says Melissa Bailey, MS, RD, CNSC, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at Kate Farms.

"Plant-based diets can help to improve lipid panels as well as decrease blood pressure, which is a great benefit to all patients regardless of disease state," she says. "Research continues to provide evidence that plant-based diets can be a tool in helping to prevent and treat disease."

In fact, recent studies have found that a plant-based diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, tame inflammation, lower cholesterol, and protect your brain from cognitive impairment and dementia. (Check out the 8 health benefits of a plant-based diet.)

Physicians who have seen the benefits plant-based diets can have on the health of their patients are beginning to recommend dietary changes as a first line of treatment instead of relying on medications alone.

"Many patients who adopt a plant-based diet are able to reduce or completely eliminate some medications they are taking to control their disease," says Bailey, "which not only helps the patient, but can reduce overall cost of care per patient as well."

The introduction of plant-based formulas

Most traditional formulas for tube feeding have long ingredient lists that may include sugar, corn syrup, milk protein concentrate, vegetable oils, whey, and soy. Intolerance to these products is common, and with the rise in food allergies, many patients were left without better options, explains Bailey.

"Kate Farms paved the way by being a plant-based option that is free of the top eight allergens and corn, thus being able to serve a wide range of patients," she says. In fact, 90 percent of parents report that their kids are able to better tolerate Kate Farms compared to their previous formula.

And that’s good news for people whose previous options were to struggle with the discomfort of food intolerance or risk malnutrition. It’s also provided access to the benefits of a plant-based diet for a population that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reap them.

A growing interest in plant-based medical food

It’s not just doctors, dietitians, and folks requiring liquid nutrition who are paying attention to the health benefits of plant-based medical food. Recent legislation in New York and California requires hospitals to provide plant-based meal options to their patients, and many hospitals are now looking at plant-based formula options, too.

Much of this shift is being fueled by patients advocating for their own dietary needs. "There has been an increase in the demand on the patient side for plant-based meals and plant-based formulas, as research on the benefits of a plant-based diet continues to show positive benefits," says Bailey. In other words, individuals are their own best advocates when it comes to getting the care they need.

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