More and more hospitals are switching to plant-based food

15 June 2023

It is now undeniable that a plant-based diet is indispensable to mitigate the climate and biodiversity crisis. But we also know more about the health benefits to people. More and more studies show that people on a plant-based diet are not only as healthy as those who eat meat, but even healthier. As a result, more and more hospitals are recognizing the health benefits of plant-based nutrition and are slowly starting to ban animal products from their cafeterias.

The Santa Clara Valley Healthcare (SCVH) hospital chain in California recently became the first public health chain in the United States to introduce the plant-based food program Universal Meals. Universal Meals has been especially developed for organizations such as hospitals, schools and hotels to offer the most inclusive food offer to staff and customers. The program offers both recipes and tips in preparing the recipes and free marketing. Universal Meals was introduced in 2021 by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The committee represents 17,000 doctors who endorse and promote the health effects of a plant-based lifestyle.

The introduction of Universal Meals into the SCVH in California is also part of the hospital chain's climate pledge, with the aim of reducing their CO2 emissions by 50% in 2030 and even reduce it to 0 in 2050.

Global trend

The California hospital chain isn't the first healthcare provider to recognize the value of plant-based nutrition. Universal Meals has previously been implemented by two independent U.S. hospitals: Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The city of New York, under outspoken vegan Mayor Eric Adams, previously introduced a similar program in hospitals there. In October 2022, the city announced that from then on, all public hospitals in the city would offer standard plant-based meals. Patients could still order meat, but 60% of them opted for plant-based meals, with the vast majority saying they were satisfied with their choice.

The United States is not the first country where hospitals dare to take this step. In March 2021, the Lebanese private Hayek hospital in Beirut decided to be the first hospital in the world to offer only completely plant-based food options to their patients.

The hospital wrote in a statement: "Last year, our patients were given the choice between meals with animal products and vegan meals. During this transition phase, we informed our patients about the health benefits of a diet containing only plant and unprocessed foods, versus the dangers of a diet with animal foods. We believe it's time to address the causes of disease and pandemics, not just the symptoms."

In the Netherlands, too, there are voices calling for plant-based nutrition in hospitals. The doctors' collective Caring Doctors released a manifesto late last year that advocates a diet with much less animal protein. "The number of patients with diseases of affluence such as diabetes and cancer will increase dramatically in the coming years. Providing the current levels of care will no longer be feasible, also because of staff shortages," explains orthopedic surgeon Patrick Deckers. "It has been widely calculated that healthier living leads to less burden of care and less use of medication. While there is still little investment in prevention. Now people are undergoing expensive surgery for colon cancer, for example, only to have a sausage on their plate in the hospital two days later."

The health benefits of a plant-based diet

Research shows that many of the most common health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis and neurological problems are often the result of a diet with too many animal products. Moreover, it appears that a largely plant-based diet and the consumption of more fruit and vegetables promotes recovery from health problems.

By offering plant-based and unprocessed food in hospitals and healthcare institutions the recovery of patients accelerates. It also works preventively: the more people adopt a healthy plant-based lifestyle, the less pressure on healthcare there will be.