More about Crappy Hospital Food
Updated: Mar 1
My healthy recipe for providing the sick with nutritious hospital food.
Refer to my article here, then come back and read:
And you might wonder what is the relevance of what you are about to read to the topic of hospital food but you will find out quickly enough.
I'm preparing to defend my master's mountain biking world title to make it three in a row. At
66 years going on 67, this is not easy as younger riders flow into my age category, all intending to win. The preparation for this brutal competition in August involves punishing daily exercise that pushes my bodily systems to the point of exhaustion and beyond, then the process begins to maximise the recovery before the next round of punishment. Managing injuries is a constant task, given the nature of what I'm doing.
If recovery is poor, if anything compromises the complex and critical processes of repair, replenishment and growing stronger, then it is inevitable that I will suffer a kind of systems failure. This means chronic fatigue, injuries that do not heal and illnesses that are incurable. I'll become like an old man.
When it comes to recovery, nutrition is paramount. No successful athlete gets to the top and stays there while neglecting their nutrition.
Recovery and strengthening are dependent on there being a rich supply of thousands of macro and micro-nutrients. What I eat daily and what I take in the form of carefully selected supplements has a direct bearing on my general health and on my athletic successes as a masters athlete.
My generous breakfast consisted of genuine free-range eggs gently fried in coconut oil, with a generous sprinkling of turmeric, pepper and a lot of pink salt. Homegrown tomatoes doused with yet more pink salt and black pepper (yes, salt is very good for you!). A huge bowl of homemade muesli with coconut cream, flax oil, homegrown rhubarb, some cheap supermarket yoghurt and all soaked overnight for more than 12 hours in full cream, raw A2 milk that came directly from the farm.
Here is what we had for dinner:
This was a very filling meal, prepared by Alofa, consisting of fresh NZ lamb's fry (liver) steak and veggies (from our garden) on mash, with a generous dousing of flax oil, pepper and pink salt. More tomatoes and salad from our garden and washed down with lemon water (lemons are from a neighbour's tree). This is food that is truly fit for a champion.
Daily, I am pushing close to or past my physical limits and on top of that, I'm working longer hours than ever. So much for retirement!
If I did not eat this way, I would fail as an athlete and I would eventually fail in health.
The nutritional needs of a person lying in a hospital are at least of equal importance as it is to a fit and healthy athlete who is preparing for the Olympics.
Compare these meals of ours with those served to the thousands of unwell people in our hospitals.
(What I am saying here applies equally to mothers who are giving birth in a hospital and beginning nursing their newborn babies)
What is the difference between the nutritional requirements of an athlete who is preparing for a world championship and the needs of a patient who is laid up in the hospital fighting for his or her life?
There is no real difference at all. A person fighting an infection or struggling to recover from a serious injury or operation equally needs a rich supply of thousands of nutrients, many of which are additional to what is listed in the official nutrition guidelines. If not a whole lot more.
Healthy tissue is not manufactured out of thin air, it ultimately comes from the basic elements of the universe - the minerals, that are packaged up in a wide range of foods that are considered to be "nutrient-dense".
If desperately needed nutrients are not immediately available from food the body has an ingenious backup system to allow the reconstruction of critical structures and to fight infection, thus ensuring some hope for survival. But it is far from being the best solution, especially when a person is already in a precariously weakened state.
The body's backup is to scavenge nutrients from existing structures including the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin and even organs like the brain, heart and liver.
These structures and organs that are being scavenged consequently get weaker and thinner (this sounds like ageing!) and are more vulnerable than before to further damage and infection.
So, while the patient may recover sufficiently to be discharged from the hospital, they will leave in a weaker state overall, more heavily medicated and they may never fully recover before the next hospital admission due to yet another relapse in health or perhaps from a fall due to their ever-weakening state of mind and body. This is the gradual process of decline that besets the majority of people in New Zeland as they grow old.
This is not really ageing but more the decline in strength and vitality that is mostly driven by the combination of poor nutrition and over-medication.
This overwhelming Tsunami of ill-health is mostly due to the perfect storm of poor nutrition, inactivity and over-medication - and unrelenting stress. Oh! - and an ageing population but I would argue and am demonstrating personally that ageing and disease are not one and the same. These factors. especially nutrition, are being ignored in actual practice. Wise but empty words are being uttered by those on high while their inaction speaks louder. The medical response is crazy: more drugs, more surgery, more technology and to serve the worst possible food to the ill, the injured and even to nursing mothers.
Who benefits from this appalling state of affairs?
Not the patient. Not the taxpayer. Not you and not me. Who benefits from increasing rates of disease and decline are the drugs companies, the medical technology companies, the beverage and the fast-food companies and the companies that supply aged care services (all of these sectors are high-flyers on the share markets of the world). All of these powerful interest groups want to grow their businesses - not to shrink them. More disease - not less. These entities are sucking the money out of your pockets, either directly or indirectly via your taxes, and doing this from the day you were born and for as long as it takes for you to be either flat broke or dead. Oh - if you are broke the taxpayer helps out, so no problem! Yeah-right!
Few people in New Zealand die of old age nowadays: they die from the combination of malnutrition and over-medication.
Many diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes, thyroiditis, Crohn's and Diverticulitis, that were once the domain of the elderly, are now being seen with increasing frequency in young people. Poor nutrition is at the heart of this disturbing trend.
Why is the food so poor?
I have my theories. Here is the most plausible one:
Most, if not all of our public hospitals are seriously underfunded, some are close to the brink of being insolvent. When a new million-dollar technology is brought in such as the latest high-technology scanner, there is not just the up-front cost of the machine to consider. What comes with it are the annual outgoings such as the cost of housing it (floor-space), energy, disposables, technicians, replacement of worn parts, specialist operators and more. It can add up to a million or more per year and the money has to come from somewhere.
Guess where it comes from? Not from new money but from cutting back on other services such as the provision of meals for patients.
The solutions with regards to hospital food
The elected Boards of representatives that govern our hospitals actually have a simple job to do to improve patients' nutrition. The main problem I see is the lack of political will to go beyond empty words to bring about change. Lacking the guts to defy extremely well-funded and politically sophisticated interest groups.
Those who govern our state hospitals should require the following:
That all food served in our hospitals meets and preferably exceeds at the minimum daily requirements for all nutrients for maintaining health, as outlined with great authority by our very own New Zealand and Australian health departments. It is all laid out here in their official documentation: Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes
That the hospital's dietitians carry out a quarterly nutrient analysis of what is being served to patients and report their findings to the Board. As with most problems, the first step is to measure and then decide what to do.
A review of all hospital food contracts, including vending machines, cafes and restaurants to ensure that what is being served on the premises meets these nutrient reference values. As with the banning of smoking on hospital grounds the same principle needs to be applied to food. When it comes to health, a high bar has to be set within the nation's hospitals. Special attention needs to be given to contracts for services such as supplying vending machines that may prevent the hospital dietitians from serving something like a bottle of super-healthy chia, hemp protein and blackcurrant drink to patients.
Providing nutritional advice and support for patients while they are in hospital so that they leave with better eating habits and a sound understanding of what constitutes good nutrition and how to achieve this in a delicious and cost-effective way.
Adequate budgetary support for hospital food services so that there are no excuses for failure, due to lack of funds.
The goal of this investment is to have a healthier population that has fewer hospital visits, lower rates of surgery, less medication and greater independence in their later years of life.
Two hospital board members have told me that they will raise this issue of hospital food at their next board meetings.
All power to them - go for it - you have our support - make it happen!
Some more reading:
Healthy Breast Milk
All of my blog articles labelled "nutrition"