Monday, June 9, 2014

Hospitals! If the germs don't kill you, the food might!

Recently, my sister had the misfortune of ending up in the hospital for a few days. I went to visit her. For three days I watched what they brought her to eat. Every meal except breakfast was served with red jello, bread, and dessert. Breakfast was primarily grain and sugar-- pancakes with syrup, cereal or oatmeal, sweet roll, and so on. Any vegetable that showed up on her plate was kept to about a half cup and cooked into an inedible pile of mush. I felt my blood sugar spike just looking at it.

There was so little nutrition in that stuff, it is a strain to refer to it as "food." They ought to be embarrassed. These are institutions supposedly dedicated to the care and recovery of sick people. Yet for meals, they serve plates full of junk-- artificial flavors and colors, highly refined carbohydrates, and sugar. It's worse than school lunches! This stuff is not only bad to eat, but it looks like it's bad to eat -- and to add insult to injury, it's barely warm by the time it's served.

Why is it so hard for hospitals to produce healthy food?

They hire certified Dieticians or Nutritionists. Dieticians and Nutritionists require a great deal of education to qualify for their certification, so we should be reasonable confident that they know something about nutrition, and yet the awfulness of hospital food persists as a universal problem.

The primary excuse thrown out as the reason for this bad food is lack of funding. Really? Hospitals don't have a problem charging patients (or their insurance providers) by the item for everything from pills and shots to tissue boxes and bedpans. One Canadian hospital claims they have a budget of only $8 a day to feed a patient (that's eight Canadian dollars, so actually less than $8), and they do the best they can. Has it ever occured to them to charge patients for their meals? Restaurants do it. Hotels do it. If given the opportunity, would you be willing to pay perhaps $8 per meal to get decent hospital food? I know I would. Why haven't they offered such a plan?...
"Hello, welcome to our hospital. We will make you as comfortable as we can while you're here. By the way, would you like to eat standard hospital fare, provided for free? Or would you prefer to pay $32 per day to be fed healthy and nutritious meals comprised of actual food? Please sign here..."

The problem, I submit, isn't money - it's a combination of disinterest and ignorance regarding the role of nutrition in healing. Medical doctors get very little training in nutrition. They don't take seriously the critical role of food on a cellular level because they concentrate their education on drugs and surgery. Their own diets are a mess, so they don't even notice the obvious problem with the foods their patients are served in hospitals.

And with no pressure from doctors, and budgets to consider, hospitals don't put a lot of effort into what they feed you. They have to feed you something, so the hospital administrator comes up with a ridiculous figure like $8 a day per patient and sends that off to the Dietician in charge who then tries to figure out how to come up with enough substance to make up three meals and two snacks. Sorry, quality is not in the budget.

Just as problematic is the impenetrable doctrine of the "low-fat diet" that continues as the framework of nutrition education in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Until the truth about what really makes us fat and sick finds its way into mainstream nutrition literature, we will continue to be misled about what constitutes healthy food. Even hospitals that are making an effort to improve their food offerings fall short of nutrient dense meals because they are focusing on all the wrong things. St. Luke's Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, is a good example. Their food is delicious and "health-conscious," but what does that mean? They're still preparing low-fat meals high in things like grains and high-fructose agave syrup and calling them "heart healthy." I suppose it's a start; at least they're focusing on using natural foods and cooking from scratch. We'll take what we can get.

I'm not asking for miracles, here...well, maybe I am. But how about just serving real food? Here are the ingredients in red jello--particularly Jell-O brand (raspberry flavor)...
In short:  sugar, gelatin and chemicals.

We don't need fancy gourmet meals from hospitals. After all, who can put up with that stuff for more than a day or two? We're harped at about how important what we eat is to our health. And it's true. What we put in our mouth becomes the building blocks our body uses at the cellular level to grow, nourish, and repair injury. And since it is true, hospitals should be devoting at least as much effort and resources to the food they serve as they do to the nursing staff that administers your pills and shots and monitors your blood pressure. The hospital kitchen, the food service staff, and the budget should be as big as necessary to meet the needs of the people it serves.

And the meals? They should be, at the very least, made from whole natural foods-- not canned, not bottled, not packaged, not processed in any way. Garden vegetables, whole fruit, naturally raised meats (not the stuff full of hormones and antibiotics), fresh farm eggs, healthy fats like butter and olive oil. Take those wholesome ingredients and prepare meals from scratch like Mom used to. This CAN be done, and some hospitals are beginning to see the importance of it.

It shouldn't be too much to ask, when we're sick and in the hospital, to be given nourishing food, not fake over-processed food-like substances that will likely make us sicker than we already are. The goal is to get us well, not hurry us off to our Maker.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. It's possible nobody has ever died from eating hospital food. Maybe. (But then again, how can we know for sure? Hmmm?)

One thing is for sure, if I ever find myself laid up in a hospital again, I'm having my food brought in. No one should have to endure being fed garbage, especially when you're not feeling good.

Image credit: Dreamtime