Hospitals take note of food offerings: Gourmet or gross?

While some hospitals are taking note of their menus (and their patients' waistlines), many others still lag behind in the nutrition department.

A recent study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that hospital food ironically is often unhealthy. It named the five worst food environments in U.S. hospitals, which hosted up to five fast-food outlets on their campuses.

Among them is St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital/Texas Heart Institute/Texas Children's Hospital Complex, which had a fried-chicken bar in its cafeteria; Medical University of South Carolina University Hospital Complex in Charleston, S.C., whose cafeteria served country-fried steak; Naval Medical Center San Diego Hospital Facility Complex in San Diego, where patients order from a menu, featuring pork chops and meatball sandwiches; Duke University Hospital Complex in Durham, N.C., with a menu that includes spicy pork loin; and Children's Memorial Hospital Complex in Chicago that offers chicken wings, quesadillas with bacon and grilled hot dogs.

Hospitals often are dominated by foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar. At the Cleveland Clinic in Florida, for example, a patient in the cardiac ICU was served fatty chunks of meat floating in lukewarm, congealed gravy, the study noted.

"[W]hen it comes to the food served to patients, staff, and visitors, many health care facilities offer high-fat, high-cholesterol fare that contributes to the very medical problems that land many patients in the hospital," the study said. 

Lead study author Susan Levin, the Committee's director of nutrition education, called this kind of hospital food "irresponsible," The Hospitalist reported.

However, some hospitals are taking stock in their patients' eating habits and instead offering healthy foods. They are even going as far as hiring special chefs to cater to patients with various medical needs, such as diabetic, gastric-bypass, cardiac, cancer and other types of conditions, in which patients have different cravings and nutritional requirements, The Wall Street Journal reported. For instance, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York faced the challenge of a teenage cancer patient who could only taste lemon after treatment dulled her taste buds. The chef created a special pizza with a lemon Alfredo sauce for her. Memorial Sloan-Kettering, which serves about 900 meals per day, updated its kitchen about two years ago to offer the personalized patient service.

The latest trend in careful attention to patients' food could be just as much about health as it is in patient satisfaction, as more hospitals serve up good care with a side of good food.

More information:
- read the Hospitalist article
- check out the study
- read the WSJ article (subscription required)

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