As a practicing physician for over 10 years, please accept my sincere apologies for prescribing the exact types of food in our hospitals, commonly known as “hospital food,” that have led you to be hospitalized in the first place. “Sadly,” many hospital cafeteria and patient menus follow the Standard American Diet (or as I call it, the S.A.D. diet) and serve mostly foods, or “food-like” products, high in trans-fats, calories, sugar, and sodium. The S.A.D. diet is implicated in most, if not all the leading causes of deaths in the United States–and now the world. How sad is that?
I am writing to my patients and colleagues to demand more from our hospitals! When we know better we SHOULD do better. Let’s put the hospital back in “hospitality”: Let’s make our hospitals a more healthful environment for employees, patients and visitors by not serving them junk “foods” known to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Harvard research presented at an American Heart Association 2015 meeting found that study participants who ate fried foods up to three times a week saw an 18 percent increased risk for heart disease. The risk increased with the frequency of fried food consumption, with about a 25 percent increased risk if eaten four to six times a week and up to 68 percent if eaten seven times or more a week. Fried foods are served daily inside our hospital cafeterias. And, even after a heart attack, a patient may choose a fried food option from the menu. Why?
Conversely, access to healthy foods improves the health of patients, staff and communities. The United States spends billions of dollars to treat diet-related chronic illnesses. As part of their mission, hospitals could leverage their purchasing power to increase the availability of local, sustainable foods and can also encourage healthier eating behaviors. Hospitals have an obligation to provide a healthy environment. So why don’t they?
Over the past five years I have been driven by a simple hypothesis: If the food served in our hospitals is part of the problem, is MUST be part of the solution. Thus, upgrading the foods served and the nutrition information provided by hospitals to their staff and visitors is desperately needed. “Let medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine.” –Hippocrates
In 2010, my wife Julie and I started “FARE WELLNESS” and hosted our first cooking class for resident doctors at The Institute of Culinary Education which was featured in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Teaching Healthy Ways to Doctors in the Kitchen.” Since then, we have taught over 250 doctors, 50 hospital chefs and dieticians how to cook a healthy and delicious whole food, plant-based meal at the Natural Gourmet Institute on Mondays to support The Meatless Monday/Healthy Monday’s campaigns. The goals of these cooking classes are to make healthy, delicious whole food plant-based foods accessible to doctors, and through culinary and nutritional education, prepare them to discuss better food choices with their patients.
Hospitality. A healthy cafeteria, an employee gym, a juice bar and organic garden should be as mandatory as restrooms and operating rooms. Since June 2013, we have been working on “Victory Greens,” the first educational and edible organic rooftop garden on a hospital in NYC. The Lenox Hill Hospital cafeteria and patients have been eating the fruits of its labor, from “Rooftop to Bedside” because improving hospital food is good medicine.
Dear hospital administrators, its time you introduce whole and fresh foods, preferably plant based foods that heal and not harm our patients and that must be an immediate goal. Secondly, ban processed meats, classified as class 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization, ban sugary beverages, and finally, ban fast food restaurants and options in our hospitals.
Our patients and staffs wellbeing are our most powerful drivers for change. It is evident that urgent reform is required both to prevent our colleagues inadvertently adding to the chronic disease burden on the health service and to ensure that we achieve and maintain quality care that’s safe and effective for all who visit our hospitals.
Let this be the time future generations say that our hospitals, doctors, chefs, farmers and policy makers finally got it right. Please insist that hospitals serve only healthful, mostly whole food plant-based options that can prevent and even reverse diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening conditions. By offering more healthful choices instead of the same old “hospital food” we can truly HELP our patients, not create more clients. Oh yeah, but preventative medicine would be bad for return business. I exclaim, “Food Fight!”
Robert Graham, MD, MPH, ABOIM, FACP