The word doctor comes from the Latin docco, meaning “to teach.” A doctor is therefore someone who teaches the patient about their condition, their treatment options and which lifestyle changes can prevent the condition from returning.
A big part of this should be nutrition, especially for hospital patients recovering from traumatic events. But sadly this step is mostly ignored by healthcare professionals, who miss out on a perfect opportunity to educate and heal.
Not only is there a disconnect between the doctor and patient’s education of post-treatment nutrition and lifestyle needs, but hospitals — the place patients with most severe conditions go to – feed their patients food that is just as bad as what caused their condition in the first place, writes cardiologist Dr. Robert Ostfeld for Forks over Knives.
“Congratulations… You survived bypass surgery! Here, have a burger,” writes Dr. Ostfeld.
Hospitals Refuse to Educate Their Patients
Being in a hospital is stressful, but it could also be a wake-up call for a healthier lifestyle. If patients were given food that is actually nourishing and free from the additives and other unhealthy aspects of what they previously ate, they would have a much better chance of learning how to fix bad habits.
Instead patients are fed conventional and additive-loaded “steak, burgers, fries and chicken nuggets,” writes Dr. Ostfeld, “it just kills me.”
Or perhaps even worse, hospitals give them microwaved TV dinner-style meals, as well as the dreaded “green jello” and other sugary foods that feed disease.
This often happens because surgeries are performed solely based on the patient’s condition, while zero attention is paid to how it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Prevention and education are lost in the process.
“It’s great that we can perform these procedures if we have to… But it is better to prevent them,” writes Dr. Ostfeld.
Thankfully some of America’s top holistic doctors are speaking out and demanding change. They’re emphasizing nutrition from whole organic and locally grown foods, and new projects are changing the way hospitals feed their patients.
The Change is Slow…But Coming
Not all hospitals are thoughtless. Adventist hospitals (non-profit faith based) offer vegan options; the hospital where Dr. Ostfeld works, Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, is adding plant-based meals in the near future; UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles is using organic food; and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont uses antibiotic-free meat.
In 2012 a hospital near Detroit used an anonymous million dollar donation to build an organic greenhouse, the first of its kind in the U.S., to grow produce for its cafeteria meals (learn more in our interview here).
At Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Dr. Garth Davis partnered with the FullyRaw co-op to begin writing prescriptions for organic fruits and vegetables, handing out bags of produce instead of drugs.
“It’s horrific and hypocritical that institutions dedicated to health care serve the same excess sugar, salt and fat-laden processed foods that caused 70% of the diseases being treated in the wards,” Kahn says, asking readers to share his editorial with hospital staff and to demand GMO-free and organic foods.
“It’s akin to a driving instructor refusing to wear a seat belt and texting while driving.”
For a list of other notable doctors and professionals speaking out against GMOs and recommending GMO-free diets to their patients, including the American Academy for Environmental Medicine organization, which links them to accelerated aging, immune system issues, and even infertility, check out this article from Organic Lifestyle.
The System is Changing
After years of frustration, change is finally happening at a systemic level.
Health Care without Harm is an international coalition of hospitals and healthcare organizations with a vision of a system that promotes health over profits. They put out reports about hospitals changing their menus. One of the recent reports encourages the hospitals and doctors to start talking about nutrition, to find a food distributor that supports eating healthy, to create a policy about buying meat that is antibiotic-free and milk without Recombinant Bovine Growth (rBGH), to buy organic and local, to become fast-food free, to limit vending machines, and even to host weekly farmer’s markets on hospital grounds.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a non-profit that works on “effective medical practice, research, and health promotion,” and keeps watch on food options in hospitals’ public areas. Their reports on food in hospitals have led to the removal of six different McDonald’s restaurants from hospital properties.
“Hospitals are beginning to change the culture of food in their facilities through farmers’ markets on hospital grounds, community-supported agriculture boxes for employees, and through developing overarching food policies,” says Holly Freishtat, food media coordinator at HCWH.
Change Happens Faster When We Demand It
“More than ever, patients are making the connection between chronic conditions and diet,” says Susan Levin, a registered dietitian with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, according to US News.
Until all hospitals are serving healthy meals, “be an advocate for yourself,” says Levin. Call the hospital to ask for foods for a special diet (ex. gluten free) and if not, bring your own food.
And share this article with friends who care about eating healthy.
How to Find Hospitals With Healthy Food
The nationwide Healthier Hospitals program provides free resources for patients. More than 1,300 hospitals participate and you can search for them by state and by issue: healthier food, less waste, engaged leadership, cleaner energy, and smarter purchasing.
Considering that as many as two-thirds of hospital staffers admit that they would not eat the food they feed to their patients, it’s safe to say that this is an idea whose time has been long overdue.