Trying to Eat in a Hospital

My mom doesn’t take diabetes medicine; she keeps her blood sugars normal through a combination of common sense and careful carbohydrate consumption. A few years ago, she had to be hospitalized at her local hospital for what she called a “minor procedure.” The procedure went fine, but the food did not. The very first meal they brought consisted of breaded fish (frozen), mashed potatoes (instant), corn (canned), a dinner roll (frozen), and tea (with two sugar packets). “If I ate that, my blood sugars would go through the roof!” she said. She drank the tea, and called my dad, who arrived shortly with chopped salad, roasted peppers, and meat loaf. This week’s post is about hospital food, if you can call it that. There’s certainly lots of opportunity for improvement. Most hospitals make it pretty hard for patients, families, visitors to find real food.

Imagine, for example, a diabetic guy in the intensive care unit. This patient’s blood sugars have been completely out of control, up and down, up and down. He is recovering slowly from a dangerous pneumonia, and is only now beginning to eat again. The nurse asks if I would like to order an 1800 kcal ADA diet. I do not.

An “1800 kcal ADA” diet means 1800 calories total each day, in accordance with the recommendations of the American Diabetic Association. This diet is loaded (I am not exaggerating) with stripped, processed carbohydrate products guaranteed to make it nearly impossible to control one’s blood sugar. No thanks.

Years ago, when I was seeing hospitalized patients, instead of an 1800 kcal ADA diet I would order a “low-glycemic diet,” which was not actually one of the approved options in the hospital. I knew I was setting myself up, but there were no other options I could order in good faith. Real food? High fiber and protein? Low-processed-carb? I wish. The hospital kitchen routinely sent fake scrambled eggs (“beaters”) and a large blueberry muffin. No kidding. This is one of the options that hospital cafeteria actually sent my diabetic patients. It should surprise no one that this kind of meal can easily send blood sugars into the 400’s. Once I asked if we could just get the patient a hard-boiled egg. No, we could not. The hospital did not actually have eggs. Just beaters.

Patients aren’t the only people who eat in hospitals. A few years ago I purchased a cup of coffee in the hospital cafeteria. I looked for the milk, but there was none. Just single servings of liquid non-dairy coffee whiteners. I don’t use those because they are not food. I was told that if I wanted real milk I would have to purchase it.

Patients in better condition than my intensive care unit patient were permitted to choose their own meals. They were provided with lists, or “menus,” as the Dietary Department called them, of all the items available for consumption in the hospital. Patients would choose what they liked, and a version would be prepared that attempted to meet their dietary restrictions.

A common scenario for me, as a physician, would be one in which I am working to control a patient’s blood sugars in an attempt to heal a leg infection and avoid an amputation. High blood sugars interfere with healing because they prevent white blood cells from working correctly. Imagine me walking into a room and seeing a patient eating a bowl of Raisin Bran (one of the highest sugar-containing cereals), along with a glass of orange juice, tea with sugar packets, and 2 slices of toast with margarine. I know these items will spike my patient’s blood sugars and make it virtually impossible to get them under control. I am left wondering why those options were on my patient’s “menu” in the first place.

If it weren’t so serious, it would be comical. “Like putting a humidifier and a de-humidifier in the same room, and letting them duke it out” (thank you, comedian Steven Wright). I don’t want to duke it out. I simply want to ask for, and receive, the tools I need to do my job successfully. Assigned the task of healing patients and controlling their blood sugars, I have a good idea of the tools I need. Different kinds of professionals use different kinds of tools. I start with food.


A New Cookbook called Love Thy Legumes!

Dear readers,

I just finished reading a new cookbook called LOVE THY LEGUMES, and it was great! It’s an educational cookbook by public health nutritionist, Sonali Suratkar. Lucky for us, Sonali is passionate about cooking and nutrition education. Continue reading


Food for Kids

Today we’re talking about food for kids. Some years ago a friend from medical school, Julie Kardos, joined forces with another pediatrician, Naline Lai, to launch an award-winning blog for parents called “Two Peds in a Pod.” All three of us have serious concerns about the food-like products that are marketed to young ones. I had mentioned to them that when my adult patients used to show up with children in tow, I would often see the little ones’ rounded bellies shrink to normal size as their families began to purchase, prepare, and eat more nourishing food. When Dr. Julie heard that, she said “The adults you treat are the ones packing the lunches of the kids that I treat.” Right. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Conner’s Own Spectacular Granola

Karma is when you discover that the yoga course for which you registered (how silly to think that it was solely in order to learn yoga!) brings you Conner Speigner, a gifted chef from Cleveland, Ohio.  Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Lemon-Sesame Kale Salad

A kale celebration for kale lovers everywhere (!). If you don’t happen to have any kale right now, you can still make this salad with any other greens growing in your garden or sitting in your fridge. Radicchio is a good addition, too. Do I post a lot of recipes for kale? Maybe. But I know hardly anyone who eats enough green, leafy vegetables. What’s the deal with green leaves? They’re basically a nutrition powerhouse, with loads of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, you name it. Exactly like taking a multivitamin. But without the constipation.

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Fun is Fine, But it’s Not Food

There’s a big difference between nutrition and entertainment. Food is nourishing. It’s what we’re eating when we choose stuff that’s loaded with color and fiber, such as vegetables and beans, nuts, fruits, seeds, and whole grains. Fun, on the other hand, is nothing like food. Fun items (which we tend to call by interesting names like “junk food” or “fast food”) are made with products like white flour, white rice, corn syrup, corn starch, commodity oils (soy, corn, cottonseed) and, of course, sugar, which you find in practically everything that’s ultraprocessed. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Celebrate the Season!

It must be November because, once again, my counter is covered with pumpkins and onions. Here are two relatively simple but unusual (dare I say extraordinary?) recipes to use them up. Both are fantastic not just for any old day of the week, but also as impressive contributions to holiday celebrations. Make the onions the day before you need them, if possible, because no matter how great they turn out, they taste even better the next day! Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Hot Peppers

A while ago I received a container of hot peppers of various interesting shapes and sizes. One day I selected a smooth, green jalapeno, chopped it into tiny bits, and added it to a stir fry. Another time, I sliced a thin, 4-inch, bright red pepper into 1/2 inch segments, marinated it in some olive oil for an hour or so, and then poured the oil over roasted eggplant sprinkled with curly parsley. That gave the sweet eggplant a pleasant bite. No further inspirations were forthcoming, and the rest of the hot peppers sat on the second shelf in the refrigerator, moving closer to the back with each passing day. Continue reading



YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Red Pepper Bisque

If you’ve been looking for a way to branch out and eat more different vegetables, this is it. Every color in your diet represents a different phytonutrient, and every phytonutrient is like a building block for your good health. That’s why it’s important to eat the rainbow, to maximize the number of different colors on your plate, to spread your bets. If you have been feeling like you could use a little more on the red side of the spectrum, make this.
It takes just a few minutes to whip up this Red Pepper Bisque and IT IS GOOD. The original version comes from Food Babe, who has been generating terrific buzz on the subject of cleaning up our food supply and putting pressure on BIG COMMODITY FOOD to do the same. She has got it all figured out, and she’s on your side.

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