Slideshow image

Should physicians help patients connect their dietary choices to planetary health?  And if so, how? 

This was the topic of my recent presentation to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. (CAPE)  This follow-up post offers quick points, and ideas on ways to bring food into healthcare work and advocacy as a professional and as a climate-conscious citizen.

Food is a huge factor in personal health, in public health, and in planetary health.  So improving diets can impact human well-being as a whole.  One route to food-for-climate, therefore, is food-for-personal-health — because there’s so much overlap. See my recent post with a clear Venn diagram.

You may not have had much nutrition training, if you work in any area of healthcare other than dietetics.  For example, mountains of research demonstrate that excessive consumption of meat and dairy are bad for people and planet. But attendees at my presentation suggested that general practice physicians shy away from the topic because they feel ill-equipped to discuss nutrition matters, especially potentially controversial ones. The good news is that you can nevertheless start introducing food issues into your work. While nutrition training may soon be part of medical school curricula, at least so that doctors can confidently tell patients that good food is key to health, neither family nor specialist physicians need to be experts on the details.  That's for dieticians.

If you can't imagine... raising food topics one-on-one with patients, there are plenty of alternative ways to engage with food for health, which I'll elaborate on in the next post. 

For now, treat yourself to some basic education on food for human well-being, and if you're comfortable doing so, offer resources to patients.  Here are a few:

Canada Food Guide Resources for Physicians 

I’m a huge fan of the latest (2019) revised Canada Food Guide, since our federal government took the courageous step, during the revision process, of refusing to agree to special meetings with food lobbyists. As a result the newest Canada Food Guide is a science-based document emphasizing whole vegetables, fruits, and grains, and recommending that Canadians get most of their protein from plant sources. So how can you share this with your patients? 

Download and print free visual resources to post in your practice’s consulting room or waiting room: 

These factsheets, posters, and postcards are suitable for adults, parents, teens, seniors, educators and communicators, health professionals, schools, workplaces, community centres, institutions, and health facilities. The link above also offers graphic resources, such as photos and web buttons, if you’d like to compose your own materials or link to Canada Food Guide Resources on your practice website. You can also order multiple FREE copies of Canada Food Guide materials in about 30 languages, including many Indigenous languages, from here:  

For a detailed look at why physicians should consider bringing climate into conversations about health, check out: “Climate-sensitive health counselling: A scoping review and conceptual framework” 

But how should you talk with patients about food and/or climate?  

If you want to try talking with patients about food and climate, see what your peers have to say in “Strategies for Clinical Discussions About Climate Change”: 

It emphasizes: 

  • patient-centered communication (being aware of patients' concerns and expectations), 
  • explaining the role climate plays in the patient's health and asking permission to discuss the topic 
  • demonstrating empathy and avoiding judgment,  
  • buildng into clinical discussions brief educational messages that are relevant to the patient's medical  goals and delivered with compassion. 
  • resisting the impulse to convince, affirming respect for their views, and concluding with your commitment to their health 
  • framing messages with an emphasis on benefits to the patient, that align with their values and are consistent with new healthy norms
  • offering patients accurate, clear, and credibly sourced material 


Plant-Based Eating Educational Resources 

For an ongoing digest of science (for you, or your advanced patients) on health benefits of more plant-based eating, an excellent site is: 

For patients, Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine has colourful and inviting educational resources for medical clinics.  It offers literature, fact sheets and infographics, downloadable in various languages, including Mandarin, Hindi, & Spanish. See: 

Or purchase printed materials for your waiting or consult rooms: 

  • Posters (about $4-7 per poster) that reinforce the health benefits of plant-based eating.
  • Waiting room kits: A full-size "general" kit (about $75 US) includes 30 copies of each of the following brochures: Good Nutrition: The Power of a Plant-Based Diet; Healthy Eating for Life; The Power Plate; Nutrition Rainbow; Diet & Diabetes: Recipes for Success; 21-Day Kickstart Cards; Power Plate Bookmarks; and more. Starter kits (about $24) include about 10 copies each of these materials. Kits can also be purchased by theme, e.g. cancer, diabetes, general wellness, and kids.


Take Cues From Your Patients 

Patients are likely to opt for more plant-rich diets -- whether for personal reasons or planetary ones -- if they have specific guidance on how to proceed. Why not offer low-cost (or some free/raffled) copies of a cookbook such as this one? 

The theme of this book is reducing food waste by making better use of the food we have while creating delicious plant-based meals. All of its recipes are composed with plant-based ingredients, such as oat milk, but they can work with animal-based substitutes if plant-based ingredients are not available. You can also help patients draw the connections between health, more plant-rich diets, food waste, and climate change by pointing them to websites featuring climate/budget/schedule-friendly recipes (or print out copies!) such as: 

Help patients understand that plant-based eating can be inexpensive and budget-friendly by referring them to resources such as, which offers meal plans and shopping lists. 

Share culturally appropriate resources. Eating more plant-based will be enticing to patients if it aligns with familiar tastes. These days, plant-based food websites are springing up in just about every culture. You could ask patients to suggest some resources or recipes reflective of their cultures or ethniticies (and maybe collect names for a draw that awards winners a plant-based cookbook of their choice)? For example: 










If you have more suggestions of resources that physicians would find useful, feel free to Comment below!  I love hearing from colleagues and friends.














Comments for this post are now off.