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Hospital Food – What The …?!!

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Have you ever noticed that the cafeteria options and patient meal plans offered at your local hospital aren’t always what you’d expect?  They’re facilities is often thought to be promoting wellness and health and yet most of the food looks to working against the patients!  As Hippocrates said, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’  Hospitals, unfortunately, are dropping the ball here.

This brings us back to a common theme.  Are hospitals in the sick care or health care industries?  Doctors and hospitals do indeed save lives in times of emergencies but are they also meant to be healing institutions that teach patients how to take better care of themselves once they check out?

Perhaps not. You see there is a difference between health care, and sick care. There’s so much confusion on what you should be eating outside of hospitals so it’s definitely not any easier inside hospital walls.  Hospital doesn’t seem to understand how to feed their patients properly. If hospitals can’t even serve healthy food to critically ill patients, what hope do the rest of us have?

What’s Wrong with Hospital Food?

Administering hospital food is a complex issue.  Even though hospital dietitians and medical staff might know better, their advice doesn’t seem to hold when you walk through most hospital cafeterias. It’s a festival of processed foods. Where is the nutrition? And what’s even worse they can choose for themselves. The Guardian has been following the sad story of hospital food for several years now. According to its research, more than 80,000 hospital meals are left uneaten every day in America and two-thirds of staffers admit they would not themselves eat what they serve up to patients!  Nutrient neglect is a real issue, one that isn’t receiving the attention needed at the government level.  The research shows that it’s very common for hospital patients to suffer nutrient deficiencies and even “malnutrition” while being in the hospital.  In some cases studied patients’ meal plans energy intake was less than basal metabolic rate, resulting in significant protein and iron deficiencies.  Studies suggest that even patients in intensive care units likely weren’t receiving additional attention or care when it came to their meals.

Why?

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that things need to change, or they don’t want to pay for it, which is a little more accurate.  What’s that phrase, money makes the world go around?  Well, many hospitals have boarded that train, using the cost of health food their main excuse.  Healthy food is just too expensive they claim.  And in their eyes, using vendors that provide cheaper alternatives makes sticking within the budget that little bit easier.

Some claim they’ve tried to work with food suppliers to offer healthier meals.  Unfortunately, they’re concerned about their back pocket just as much!  Food manufacturers are more responsible than hospital staff when it comes to what your loved ones are consuming.  Why … because most food is simply reheated rather than prepared and cooked.

What’s even worse, some hospitals are hypocrites.  In order to uphold their ‘fiscal responsibility’ whilst trying to their job of promoting health they educate the public on what to and not eat and yet they don’t practice what they preach!  They continue to serve the foods they recommend to the community to avoid.  They hide behind the facade of providing education about what to eat so the problem is no longer theirs when patients have the ability to choose what they put in their mouths.  But still why even provide these foods?  In an epidemic of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, is it too much for hospitals to set the standard and promote sustainable health?

What to Eat at the Hospital?

1. Have Family Members Bring in Food Instead

If you want the best for your family members in hospital, unfortunately, it’s come to resorting to yourself!  Take the initiative in bring in healthy food for them.  The food you know isn’t laden with salt, hidden sugars, refined vegetable oils, additives, preservatives, food colorings, farm-raised animal products and chemical flavorings.  Bring fresh fruits, non-starchy veggies and salads, nuts and seeds.  Foods that act to stop inflammation instead of hospital foods that typically promote or exacerbate disease. Ask your family member’s nurse about using a refrigerator to store your perishable foods.

2. Produce!

If you find yourself having to eat hospital food go for the freshest items you can find!  Fruit, salads, veggies, hummus and fruit for example.  Food with fewer ingredients is best, which could be harder to find than you might think.  But every little but is better than nothing.  And also ask!  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, “I’ll have extra veggies with my meal instead of bread thank you!”

3. Avoid Refined Carbs and Sugar

Many diets avoid saturated fats, salt, and cholesterol in an effort to minimize risk for heart disease patients for example.   This ultimately leaves food options high in sugars and refined carbohydrates and processed grains.  Removing all naturally occurring fat from foods means something takes it place.  Generally, it’s the even more deadly and addictive carbohydrates and sugar.   Avoid sugary breakfast cereals, sweetened oatmeal, muffins, pancakes, French toast, bread, rolls, pasta, and wraps.  Fruit, baked sweet potatoes, and plain rolled oats are all good options to keep on hand instead.   Avoid hospital snacks all together and focus on drinking plain water, coffee or tea instead of soft drinks and juices.

4. Skip Low-Quality Animal Products

We’ve just mentioned budget concerns and a real issue for hospitals.  It’s safe to assume then that the animal products being served are most likely of low quality.  Your beef, chicken, turkey, and eggs that traditionally can be part of a healing diet must be brought in by family members to ensure high quality.  Opt for more nutrients and essential fatty acids in grass fed, pasture-raised organic and cage free animal products.

How can I Support the Cause for Healthier Hospital Food?

Luckily, the issue of hospital food has gotten some momentum of late.  People are starting to realize something needs to be changed surrounding the issue.  Some hospitals have taken the plunge to start thinking differently about the foods they supply and the importance of their food and patient treatment success.  To cut costs farm raised animals are usually fed cheap ingredients and kept indoors where illnesses are common but antibiotics or hormones even more common to keep animals alive.

At this stage, small groups are doing their very best to change hospital food.  Some local farming initiatives are promoting local farmers to supply their local hospitals with all the fresh produce they need.  We’re already seeing it in Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in the US, where patients, family members, and hospital employees now “dine on nutritious meals made from fresh produce like tomatoes, kale, eggplant, and strawberries.”  Whilst this hospital is a dime a dozen, it’s a step in the right direction and provides hope for the future.

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