Hospital Food: The Conundrum behind a Nutritious Meal By Carolyn Rodgers, PhD

I was visiting my brother in the hospital when we started discussing weight loss, but somehow ended up talking about the “real” nutritional value of his hospital food. Now, before I go any further, let me start by explaining why my brother was in the hospital in the first place. My brother was admitted in the hospital for having chest pains, which the doctors later discovered was a result of being overweight. I sat in my brother’s room explaining to him that he needed to begin a healthy diet and exercise regimen that would maximize his weight-loss potential over the course of three months. My brother and I also discussed the benefits of him possibly trying a “liquid” diet to detox and lose weight faster.

During this discussion a nurse entered his room and began to eavesdrop on our conversation. I am assuming she thought she knew what I meant by a liquid diet, because she immediately interjected by saying “a liquid diet is not healthy, you need protein, and meat is necessary for you to get protein in your diet, sweetie“. I immediately responded that protein could also be obtained from fruit, vegetables and legumes, but for some reason (perhaps my young appearance and her being older than me) she did not believe me. The nurse proceeded to tell us a story about a friend of her’s who attempted a juice diet of what sounded to me like a combination of unhealthy carbonated drinks, perceived “natural” juices, and sodium filled vegetable drinks! Needless, to say this friend of the nurse did not have a good health outcome according to her memory.  I attempted to explain to the nurse that the juice diet I was referring to only consisted of whole organic fruit and vegetables that were freshly pressed into juice at home using a juicer!

Unfortunately, the lady nurse appeared offended that some “layperson” or “hospital visitor” could have knowledge about nutritional value, especially when the hospital’s liquid diet prescribed for my brother was not compliant with what I was saying! Surprising to me, even though I am no expert in nutrition, I could have said the same thing about her, the hospital staff responsible for the meals, and most medical doctors for that matter!  Consequently, my brother had explained that his meals consisted of chicken broth (simply stated, juice, and seasonings boiled out of the chicken and occasionally vegetables into the water), carbonated drinks (sounds familiar), “natural juices”( in other words, sugars and juice from concentrate), and lastly water. Needless to say, my brother jumped on the band wagon with me as he remembered 6 months ago when he tried the juice diet I was referring to, he not only lost 15 pounds in a week, but also felt better. The downside to his experience was that he did not learn to eat healthier meals after the detox. When the lady nurse heard from my brother about his experience she walked out with  a dumbfounded look on her face dismissing everything she heard.

As a result, my brother and I turned to each other in amazement and felt saddened that we could not reach the nurse. In fact, most people have actually made life so complicated that they have forgotten the basics of what is required to survive. When people hear words like organic (which means naturally occurring state) they think it’s chemically modified and when they read labels that say “natural” they think of pure and whole, when in fact this is not the case at all.  Can you believe that I have actually met people who actually thought “real organic” apple juice is the clear brownish color often seen among some brands compared to the more cloudy dark brownish color that comes out of your juice at home after running an apple through the juicer! Too many times have I saw people turn down authentic organic food for artificial stuff and swear up and down that they have the  “real thing”. Until  we reach a point of getting back to the basics and recognizing real food then this conundrum behind a nutrition meal will continue to be a problem in many hospitals, a place where people are supposed to receive an honest effort to get well.


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