How do I deal with a vegan patient?

Image: Ivan Bajic | Photodisc | Getty Images

Hospital food has gotten a bad rap for years. But would your hospital have any idea how to feed a patient who’s a vegan? Would you?

Vegans are vegetarians in the extreme; they eat a plant-based diet, period. No fish, no eggs, no animal-related foods of any kind—which can prove to be challenging during a hospitalization. Think about it: Even the chicken or beef broth you typically serve as part of a clear liquid diet are off-limits to a vegan. Jell-O contains gelatin, which is animal-based, too.

Your patient will be your best source of information. Ask about dietary preferences on admission, and be sure to communicate those preferences to the dietary department. If at all possible, try to arrange a meeting between the patient and dietitian. Your patient has probably already spent years sorting out what she will and won’t eat, and probably is aware of resources that you and the dietitian have never even considered.

Make sure the physician knows about your patient’s dietary preferences as well. If the hospitalization was a planned one—say, an elective surgery—it’s possible that the patient, physician and dietary department have already hashed things out. If not—or if the admission was rather sudden—it’s time to put on your patient-advocate shoes. Ask the physician if it’s okay for friends and family to bring in food from home; they may be more than happy, for instance, to bring in a carton of soy milk.

Keep talking to your patient and the other healthcare providers. If you’ve never cared for a vegan before, it may be a challenge to meet her dietary needs—but together, you can build a nutritious diet that respects her personal preferences.

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