Sunday, November 28, 2010

Does Your Hospital Menu and Foods Fight Disease or Contribute to Them?

There was an interesting article in Newsweek regarding food and social class in America. Eating well, is becoming more expensive and as a result, can be considered a luxury, at least if you are poor. If you are comfortable money wise, you probably don’t give it much thought however if you are poor or have less resources for food, good, healthy food is considered a luxury item. More important is the link between food and good health. If you subscribe, like I do, that food is your ticket to reversing disease and good health, being able to purchase organic foods really is a luxury item. On the flip side, having to purchase poor quality food (non-organic fruits and vegetables and/or factory farmed meat and poultry) is a quick ticket to ill health and therein lies the real dilemma. The real issue with food and health is that we messed everything up in our quest for cheap food. In the quest, more pesticides/chemicals were used and if you’ve seen the documentary, “Food Inc.”, you know precisely what I am talking about.

As the article states, being able to afford really good food is a bit of a class definer, whether you like it or not. Let’s face it, being able to spend $150 on an organic, pastured, heritage turkey was probably not in a lot of people’s budget this year. If you enjoy organic food, you have most likely tasted the difference between organic and non-organic food and understand the nutrient differences as well. But not having all of the hormones and antibiotics in the poultry makes a difference as well; you have to wonder how those things contribute to disease. After all, you are what they eat. But being able to afford really good food is also becoming a "health definer".

I found the article interesting because it’s something I have been thinking about a lot for the past year. As a single mother, I work part time to care for Dear Son. There’s no other way to really do it, now that he is total care. As a result, I live on a very tight budget. I buy the very best food that I can and consider organic food not only as a luxury item but as a ticket to great health. Due to Dear Son’s fragile health, and since I don’t have a great health insurance policy, I have to work hard to remain healthy. I divide my grocery store dollars between Whole Foods and another local chain. I make nearly everything myself and you’ll never find a box of anything in my freezer. I do this because I want to know what’s in my food but also so I can spend more money on high quality, organic food. I have eliminated other items in my budget so I can eat higher quality foods. Certainly there are some weeks that I can’t buy as much organic as I want, but I have some foods that are non-negotiable in terms of buying organic. Other weeks, I just buy less or do whatever I can to make ends meet.

Over the years, I gave up different things, In the beginning, I avoided any foods with artificial sweeteners, msg and high fructose corn syrup then I eliminated processed foods, and genetically modified foods and oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean and vegetable). I eat whole foods and whole grains and aim for hormone free, organic, pastured beef and poultry fed without GM soybeans; this is very hard to find and I am still researching farms to find it. In addition, I’ve removed nearly everything with BPA in my kitchen and have eliminated nearly all canned foods. I am a firm believer in foods that reverse disease. I still have more changes I’d like to make but they take money and therein lies the dilemma. The problem is that I know that eating well prevents and reverses disease however what really bothers me is that I can’t afford to eat like I want to, at least not now. While Whole Foods isn’t the end all, it is the best health food/type grocery store on a mass level. If money weren’t an issue, I’d eat differently. I’d buy a share of a cow and drink raw, unpasteurized milk. I’d purchase organic bison from farmers who fed their animals a regular diet or organic diet excluding soy, that took the time to feed the animals right until it was time to slaughter and then used humane methods on their animals. I eat all organic fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains and nuts and purchase them from local farms. I’d eat organic beef and poultry only from pastured animals. It also drives me crazy when people who can afford to eat better, don’t. I mean, if you can afford to eat organic, why wouldn’t you? There are weeks when I would love some organic brussel sprouts but instead I have to purchase the non-organic ones.

Even more important, is that I’d love to feed Dear Son differently. I’ve tried pureeing fruits and vegetables for him however it clogs the feeding tube. Without a high powered blender, like a Blendtec or Vita Mix, I can’t get the puree smooth enough for tube feedings.
My day after Thanksgiving turkey sandwich made with factory farmed turkey, organic spinach, homemade bread and an organic banana.
What is most troublesome about food in America is that eating well or eating really healthy, costs money. I consider it a luxury item for sure. This Thanksgiving, I ate a regular store bought turkey but my heart was set on a heritage, pasture raised, organic bird. I purchased the store bought turkey because that is what I could afford. Of course, I couldn’t stop thinking about the conditions the animals were raised, how they were most likely bred to have more breast meat, when I paid only $.48 a pound; yes, I know turkeys are a loss leader this time of year, but still. I cring at the thought that it most likely was treated with hormones or antibiotics and wondered how that might affect me. A pasture raised heritage turkey on the other hand, could cost up to a half month’s worth of grocery money, depending on the size and farm it was purchased from. I am one of those people that spend my free time researching farms, how the animals are raised, finding out what exactly the animals are fed and want to know the time to slaughter (the longer the distance to slaughter stresses the animals and hence affects the flavor of the meat). I research the eggs I buy, the milk I buy, etc.

If you really believe that food reverses disease and that food is your ticket to good health, being able to afford organic food and good food is definitely a luxury item since it costs more. Some people try to get around it a bit by paying attention to the “dirty dozen”, which is a list of fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides or chemicals used and that somehow, fruits and vegetables that aren’t subjected to heavy chemicals can be purchased non-organically. Some new studies however show a vast difference in the nutrition between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables. For me, this is important but equally as important is taste, and when I purchase an organic sweet onion, the flavor is amazing as opposed to a non-organic one. While I don’t notice that in all organic foods, for some fruits and vegetables, like organic bananas and organic onions, the taste is significantly superior and I have to believe the nutrition must be as well.
Underlying the article and the cost of food is the real issue of health. I have been disturbed for some time over the quality of the food at Big Academic Medical Center. On occasion, I’ve had parent trays. Parent trays are appreciated since the refrigerators in the hospital rooms tend to freeze the fruits/vegetables, regardless of the setting. I’ve given up trying to bring my food down, since the refrigerators are useless and purchasing meals at an on-site restaurant is not budget friendly, especially for longer hospital stays. As a parent, I select my meal from the menu and being a children’s hospital, the menu is geared towards kids. One of the most striking things about the menu, is that you can’t find any fruit on the menu. Can you imagine that? That is, unless you look under “desserts”. I searched high and low the first time I saw the menu looking for fruit because I couldn’t believe that it was non-existant on the menu. So under dessert, you can find things like a banana. Yes, a banana is considered dessert and not a fruit, at least at this Top 100 Hospital. I suppose if we called a fruit a “fruit” maybe kids wouldn’t eat it. The menu also has some heart healthy options, none of which I would ever remotely consider “heart healthy”.

If you want lettuce or greens for a salad, you won’t find any spinach or romaine lettuce. The only lettuce on the menu is iceberg, which as you know, is practically devoid of any nutrition. Now I understand that they may not be able to afford to have all organic items, but I would hope that there would be some fruits and vegetables with a higher nutritional profile. And yes, I realize these are kids but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t offer higher quality food.

I guess what really bothers me a lot about Big Academic Medical Center is this. We go there because there are world class physicians that provide high quality healthcare and do research accordingly. However, there seems to be a large disconnect in the whole wellness category; on the one hand, you have world class physicians to fight diseases and then you have a hospital menu that contributes to them.

If you believe like I do that food prevents and/or reverses disease, then wouldn’t you expect that the menu would reflect that? Here’s what I’m thinking. When you are in the hospital for an infection, I’d expect a big spinach smoothie loaded with fruits and antioxidants. Instead, there are no fruits with antioxidants in them; there aren’t any blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, organic or otherwise on the menu. I am certain this is a cost issue for sure. Instead, you can get a banana or an apple. You can though, get milk in different colors and any kind of kiddie sugary cereal the kids want. If you believe that refined sugar lowers immunity then it would seem that foods with refined sugars would not be allowed on the menus. Somehow, disease prevention and using food to cure disease, doesn’t coincide with the hospital menu.

Nestle Compleat Modified Formula

On the topic of food and chemicals, are the infant formulas. Most of these formulas have 100% of the RDA and yet are in a base of corn syrup. I worked with a nutritionist at another Big City Children’s Hospital to find a better formula for Dear Son. I told her I wanted a “natural formula” and one made from “real food” but I wasn’t sure anything like that existed since formula isn’t really a “real food”. She recommended a “real food” tube feeding formula, made with traditional foods. It provides nutrients found in real food and contains chicken, peas, carrots, tomatoes and cranberry juice. All of that is listed on the front of the label. It sounds good and it costs about 50% more than the standard formula. It sounds great until you read the back of the label which lists the ingredients: the first item is water, the second is corn syrup, followed by another sugar and then the chicken puree, the tomato puree and then canola oil (which is probably genetically modified). The cranberry juice is made from concentrate. Is this really the best we can do for our kids? (Personally, I don't ever think that any nutritionist working at any children's hospital should ever recommend any formulas with corn syrup in them. Then of course, we wonder why the kids gain weight on them!) And yes, the formula comes in a can, which most likely has BPA in the can lining. And if we go down the BPA path, we can add the plastic tubing, the plastic feeding bags, plastic syringes, plastic extension tubes, all encased in plastic, along with plastic covered diapers and plastic gloves. Now we are completely off topic.

The bottom line is this…if you want to be healthy, you have to eat well. And the reality is that the more educated a person is, the better they can eat and more often than not, they have a better job to do that. And therein lies the great divide. While people with fewer resources can make better choices, the reality is that they will never be able to eat really well. And now that our food has changed, with an emphasis on creating “cheap, factory farmed food”, we now have changed the paradigm. To eat well and to prevent disease costs money. And for those who can’t afford to pay, they may pay an even higher price with poor health and more disease. And as the paradigm shifts, while more money won’t always translate to better health (meaning they have to want to buy healthier food), not being able to afford better food will make it tougher to achieve good health. In the end though, I think we should expect that all heathcare providers should provide food that helps prevent disease. Now, if only we could all agree on what that food should be.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered vegetarianism? Instead of spending $150 on a turkey alone, I spent less than half of that on a complete Thanksgiving for four (mushroom-barley soup, stuffed winter squash with lentils, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, vegetable salad, corn salad and cranberry-orange carrots)! For everyday cheap, wholesome good taste, you can't beat buying dry legumes in bulk!

Gloria (The Little Red House with the White Porch) said...

You sure are right on those two counts: Hospitals offer terrible food to both patients and in the hospital cafeteria; plus, organic food is more expensive so how can we afford to buy it? My son just got himself an organic peanut butter. It was $5.49! I like the Skippy reduced Fat -- and you wouldn't believe the list of ingredients on the Skippy jar. I actually DID compare the two. The organic one (I think it was "Teddie's") had: PEANUTS. That's it! No preservatives, nothing. The other had a slew of stuff. So I do see what you mean...
I think I will try to take your advice and try to look for more organic items to buy -- hopefully ON SALE! :)

Dream Mom said...

Anon-Thanks. Yes, I've considered it but I do still enjoy the occasional turkey and bison. I didn't spent $150 on a turkey but I wanted one, lol. I eat quite a lot of vegetables and many days eat totally vegan already.

Gloria-Yes, it's important to read the labels. My favorite peanut butter is Trader Joe's Almond Butter with Golden Flaxseed. Smucker's All Natural has a peanut butter that's just peanuts, if I recall.

Emily said...

Keep in mind, though, that in hospitals a lot of kids need added calories and fat. I was on lipid infusions, TPN, and was on a mega-high calorie diet just so I could attempt to reach a normal weight (which never happened). I know this doesn't apply to everyone, but it is something hospitals have to consider. And when kids are vomiting and losing weight rapidly, they have to put the weight back on fast.
My children's hospital recently revamped their menu and it includes a variety of foods--yes, 'kid stuff' like pizza, but also healthier options, so that if you do not have dietary restrictions, you can eat whatever you'd like. Of course, parent and child should work with dieticians, etc. to make sure that they are getting the nutrition they need both in and out of the hospital. But for some kids, that means bags of 'junk food' in order to gain weight!

Tracie said...

I went into protein malnutrition twice while being an inpatient in hospitals. I've had weight loss surgery so my dietery needs are strictly specialized.

This was a good read b/c it's something I discuss frequently on my own blog. As a result, I pack my own necessities before I go: protein supplements & I ask relatives to pitch in & bring me nutritious meals. Never again will I totally rely on the hospital's menu again.

BlackBerry Mama

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