By Denise Williams | News & Views
As soon as the words “plant-based diet” are introduced, there’s a chance that cardiac rehab participants will tune out of the conversation about their nutrition plan. Blame the tendency, among professionals as well as patients, to mistakenly equate plant-based diets with vegan or vegetarian regimens – meatless disciplines that are difficult for some to…well…swallow.
As a dietician in cardiac rehab for 7 years before earning a PhD and becoming an adjunct instructor, Ruth A. Rasmussen, PhD, RDN, LD, CCRP, understands how that dialogue might unfold. As a researcher with knowledge of the evidence-based facts, she also knows how to address the concerns – starting with edifying enrollees about what a plant-based diet actually encompasses.
During her AACVPR webinar on August 11, she explained how there are many variations – some of which are better classified as plant-slanted, since they actually don’t remove meat from the equation entirely. While it’s true that these diets are defined by high-fiber, low-sugar fruits and vegetables that are full of heart-healthy antioxidants, they generally do leave room to satisfy meat cravings. Plans might significantly limit the intake frequency of red meat, which is high in saturated fat and thus bad for heart health, but they are more tolerant of lean poultry and fish. Someone following a plant-based diet might have lean meat only once per day, perhaps, or they might enjoy it more often but in smaller amounts – for example, a chicken tortilla soup that includes meat but does not make it the focus of the meal.
Rasmussen notes that this is the kind of dish typical of the Pritikin diet, which is at the center of her recently completed dissertation research. In her AACVPR presentation, she offered an overview of what the science says about plant-based diets and what it means for the average adult, in general. She also dove deeper, with a look at the evidence coming out of investigations involving cardiac rehab patients, who often are living with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol that will also benefit from the effects of a plant-based diet.
To wrap up her talk, Rasmussen presented the audience what she calls the “how-to,” meaning suggestions for promoting and educating patients on plant-based diets. In addition, she steered them toward free, online resources that they can utilize to achieve the kind of improvements that providers and patients both want to see. “I want staff to feel like they’re competent enough to have these conversations with patients,” she says.
In laying out the evidence to support plant-based diets, and by clarifying the role of meat in those plans, Rasmussen aimed to encourage CR professionals to, in turn, encourage CR participants. Too often, she says, there’s a resignation and acceptance that the patient is only comfortable with certain limitations or willing to go only so far with dietary recommendations. The onus is on CR professionals, however, to give enrollees a roadmap that puts them on track for their best possible health. “We need to keep in mind as professionals that what we promote needs to be evidence-based, not just patient preference,” Rasmussen asserts. “Definitely work with your patients, but support strategies that we know works for our patients.”
The recording of the webinar, "Plant-Based Nutrition in Cardiac Rehab: The Research and How-To!", is available to AACVPR members at no charge and to non-members for a nominal fee.