A healthy diet without any animal products often takes a little extra planning, especially if you are a busy nursing student. But it’s definitely worth taking the extra time and effort required when planning your meals and writing your grocery list and after a while, both your body and your wallet will start to see the benefits.
Switching to a plant-based diet is becoming increasingly more popular, so for busy students, there are many more vegan convenience foods available to make life easier compared to a few years ago. Today you can find vegan ready meals, ready-made snacks, and pre-prepared foods that are healthy, easy to obtain, and easy to make when you’ve had a long day.
Shifting to a plant-based diet might not be the easiest when you’re on a tight student budget, but with the right planning and research, you may even find that you spend less compared to a diet eating meat or other animal products. We’ve put together some top tips to help you stay healthy and enjoy your food as a nursing student on a plant-based diet.
Do Your Research:
Before you get started and make the switch, do your research. Vitamin deficiencies are common in all diets, and as a student nurse, you’ll probably know more about them and the effect that they can have on your energy levels and performance. Thankfully, most foods that you can eat on a vegan diet contain the vitamins and minerals that you need, so do some research beforehand to make sure that your body is getting the right nutrition.
Make sure that you focus on getting the following nutrients in your food:
- Protein: This is an important nutrient for almost every part of your body and ensures that your muscles, skin, bones, and organs are healthy. Amino acids are the ‘building blocks’ of protein, which your body needs to break down foods. Protein is mainly found in meat and dairy, so you might have to work a little bit harder to make sure that you’re getting enough protein as a vegan. Thankfully, there are many non-animal sources of protein including nuts, seeds, nut butter, legumes, grains, tofu, and soy milk.
- Iron: Iron is an important factor in the production of red blood cells, which help carry oxygen throughout your body. There are many great vegan sources of iron, including raisins, tofu, broccoli, beans, and wheat. Eating foods rich in vitamin C, like oranges, will help your body better absorb iron.
- Calcium: Calcium is essential for strong bones and helps prevent osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones and makes you more susceptible to breaks. Most people get their calcium from dairy products, but as a vegan, there are plenty of plant-based sources for you to choose from. Dark greens like bok choy, broccoli, and kale are great sources of calcium, or you can get it from drinking soy milk.
- Zinc: Zinc is essential to a healthy immune system, and you can find it in a range of soy products, nuts, and beans.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin is crucial for helping produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. Since it is mainly found in meat, fish, and dairy products, it’s often the vitamin that those switching to a plant-based diet find themselves lacking in. Thankfully, you can find plant-based products that are fortified with this vitamin, such as some cereals and soy milk. You might also want to consider taking a vegan-friendly B12 supplement.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These are essential for improving your heart health and brain function. Typically found in oily fish, you can also get them from some plant-based sources, such as oil and flaxseed meal. There are also several plant-based products fortified with omega-3, and you can take vegan-friendly supplements.
Whether you’re looking for easily prepared food products or vegan-friendly supplements to take in order to keep your diet balanced and get all the nutrients you need, it’s important to know what to avoid when you see it on a label. Some products are not automatically labeled as being vegan-friendly, so it’s important to look out for the following:
- Cochineal/Carmine: A common food coloring that comes from crushed beetles.
- Shellac: Often found on shiny sprinkles and hard candies, this glaze also comes from beetles
- Casein: A milk product, likely to be found in some protein shakes
- Whey: A dairy product which is used as an additive in a wide range of foods
Speak to Your Doctor:
As a student nurse, you’ll know how important it is to let your doctor know if you’re deciding on implementing any big changes in your life. At your next check-up, mention your choice of a plant-based diet to your doctor and get some advice if needed. Your doctor will be able to run tests to ensure that you’re not suffering from any nutritional deficiencies that could affect your health and your studies, and give you advice on any dietary supplements that you should be taking to make sure that your body is getting a balanced range of the vitamins and minerals that it needs.
Plan Your Meals in Advance:
If you are looking at post masters NP programs from Carson-Newman University and know that your life for the next few years is going to be rather busy, get into the habit of planning your meals in advance and meal prepping as soon as you can. Beans on toast is probably the easiest and quickest vegan meal that you can make yourself as a student, but the last thing that you want is to end up eating it every day after hours of lectures and clinical.
Taking some time at the weekend to put together a menu for yourself for the week, and using some time the night before to plan your lunches can make all the difference between surviving and thriving on a plant-based diet as a student nurse. Plus, it’s a great way to find new vegan recipes and plan out your grocery list in advance, which will help you to save money. As a vegan, your freezer is going to be your best friend – make big meals and freeze half of them in single portions, so that when you are in a rush, all you need to do is take your pre-prepared food out of the freezer and warm it up. If you’re short on freezer space, try storing your meals in Ziploc freezer bags instead of Tupperware.
Find Your Favorite Vegan Snacks:
Snacks are great for keeping you going when you’re too busy to sit down and eat a meal and will help to balance your blood sugar levels throughout the day and avoid pesky afternoon energy drops. When you’re sticking to a vegan diet, you will probably struggle to find a wide range of snacks in the vending machines to suit you, so make a list of all your favorite vegan snacks and stock up on them. There are plenty of healthy snack ideas that are great for a plant-based diet, including:
- Dried fruit
- Fresh fruit with nut butter
- Carrot sticks or celery with hummus
- Chips and guacamole
- Rice cakes and avocado
- Roasted chickpeas
- Fruit and nut bars
- Vegan protein bars
- Dried coconut
- Veggie chips
- Seaweed crisps
- Energy balls
- Frozen grapes
Some snacks you can buy in advance, like vegan protein bars or fruit and nut mixes, but if you want to save money, there are plenty of great recipes to use. Make your snacks in advance and divide them up into portions that you can grab and take with you when you’re on the go.
Being new to a plant-based diet can be quite overwhelming when you’re new to everything and not sure whether or not something is vegan-friendly or not. But, the social aspect of being vegan is a great way to learn more, make new like-minded friends, and get answers to your questions. Check out social media, where you can find plenty of communities like Facebook groups where you can get to know other people following plant-based diets and swap tips and ideas with them. If there’s a club or society at your university that focuses on a vegan lifestyle, join it!
With more and more people switching to plant-based diets, it’s easy to find people who’ve been doing it longer than you and have some advice to share. Groups like ‘Accidentally Vegan’ on Facebook are great places to find products that you didn’t even realize were plant-free, and you can find other groups focused on cheap plant-based meal prep, plant-based snacks, or non-dietary vegan lifestyle tips like which products to avoid for skincare and more.
Whether you’re going plant-based for animals, the environment, your health, and wellbeing or a combination of all the possible reasons, sticking to a vegan diet has never been easier than it is today, with plenty of products to choose from and resources to take advantage of. As a busy student nurse, a plant-based diet might take a little more planning, but it’s definitely worth it.