By Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D.
Good eating habits play a critical role in preventing and treating many chronic diseases, but are hospitals doing their part by serving healthy vegan foods in their cafeterias and restaurants?
To answer that question, PCRM recently teamed up with ADinfinitum, Inc., a New York agency, to survey hospitals across the country about the foods served in their cafeterias and restaurants. PCRM nutritionists collected information from 40 hospitals or hospital systems and analyzed their typical daily menus as well as dishes the foodservice staff considered the healthiest. All dishes were analyzed for fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber content.
Our survey, the “Healthy Hospital Food Initiative,” showed that most hospitals are trying to offer what they think are healthful foods, but the end result is disappointing.
All of the 25 hospitals that responded reported offering at least one vegetable side dish and one reduced-fat product daily. And more than 80 percent offer fresh fruit, whole-grain products, sugar-free snacks, and a low-fat entrée or side dish every day. But there is a distinct lack of vegan selections and dairy alternatives.
|Food PCRM nutritionists collected information from 40 hospitals or hospital systems and analyzed their typical daily menus.|
Most do not always offer a low-fat, cholesterol-free entrée. And bean dishes, which are important for meeting daily fiber recommendations, are not available on a daily basis on all hospital menus. Many hospitals named a chicken dish as their “healthiest entrée,” and some items, such as meatloaf, pork carnitas, and chicken cacciatore, derived more than 50 percent of their calories from fat. Just a few—oven-roasted vegetables and veggie burgers—were vegetarian and fairly low in fat. The mean fiber content of the 21 “healthy” dishes submitted was just 1.1 grams.
Hospitals also could do more to accommodate lactose-intolerant and health-conscious customers. Only 28 percent offered soymilk, and just 27 percent offered a salad bar daily.
By making a few simple changes, as PCRM describes in its report, U.S. hospitals could take a leadership role in promoting good health.
PCRM’s new report offers hospital foodservice staff a number of recommendations for change, including a daily salad bar and hot bean dish, more fresh produce, a wider selection of vegetarian entrées, less prepared foods, and regular availability of soymilk and rice milk. PCRM also recommends that hospital foodservice staff explore world cuisines such as Indian or Mediterranean. To read the full report, go to www.pcrm.org/hospitalsurvey.