Nutrition scientists with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have conducted a nationwide survey to determine if hospital cafeterias and restaurants are meeting the need for low-fat, cholesterol-free foods that can help people maintain a healthy weight and prevent heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
While there are some promising trends, such as the wide availability of whole-grain products and fresh fruit, there is an urgent need for improvement. The survey reveals that fewer than one-third of hospitals offer either a daily salad bar or a daily low-fat, cholesterol-free entrée. Moreover, a nutritional analysis reveals that many entrées described as healthful by hospitals are actually very high in artery-clogging fat. Sixty-two percent of these "healthiest entrée" offerings derived more than 30 percent of calories from fat, and a few derived more than 50 percent of calories from fat.
"With heart disease still the number one killer of Americans and obesity on the rise, it is imperative that hospitals set a good example by providing health-promoting, vegetarian foods to staff, patients, and visitors," says Amy Joy Lanou, Ph.D., senior nutrition scientist. "Hospital fare with a focus on vegetables, beans, and whole grains could help keep visitors and medical staff from becoming patients themselves." Numerous studies published in peer-reviewed journals show that a low-fat vegetarian diet can lower cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, reverse heart disease, halt progression of prostate cancer, and provide many other benefits.
In partnership with ADinfinitum, Inc., and Spirit of Women hospital network, PCRM staff created the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative Questionnaire and distributed it to 40 hospitals or hospital systems nationwide. The hospitals surveyed were medium to large community hospitals with 100 beds or more and academic medical centers with at least 500 beds. Data collection occurred between December 1, 2004 and January 31, 2005.