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News Flash! Sugar and White Flour are Great for Your Heart!

heart healthy hospital diet

I think we can all agree that fresh vegetables are good for our bodies, right?

Whether you’re Paleo or vegan, a traditional foodie or even a Standard American Diet aficionado, everyone knows they should eat their vegetables.

Warning: Strap on your patient hat and try to keep your temper, because what I’m going to tell you next still has me seething days later.

My dad was just in a renowned hospital for heart surgery, and he had a craving after a few days. He just wanted something crunchy – carrot sticks, maybe raw cauliflower, or some sliced cucumbers.

Veggies in a reusable bag for lunch keep it simple

Seems logical enough, right?

The man doesn’t even like dressing or dips, so there’s no fat or sodium risk.

But did the “heart healthy diet” he was on through the hospital cafeteria offer raw veggies?

No they did not.

Not. One. Option.

His tech tried to call in a special request, and he got absolutely livid on the phone:

“What do you mean I can’t get this patient carrot sticks? I can get raw veggies by the pound every day at the salad bar in this building. You can’t get some vegetables for this man? How are we preaching health, the Mediterranean diet or vegan, and not serve vegetables?!?”

I don’t think a vegan diet would be best for anyone, but otherwise, AMEN! We were so pleased with all of Dad’s support team advocating for him and cheering him on and he felt so cared for.

Our Hospital’s “Heart-Healthy” Diet

dessert collage

What was on the heart-healthy diet in the hospital, you ask?

My dad had unlimited access to:

  • desserts
  • bread
  • fruit
  • meat
  • potatoes

I list the above because he was never denied any of these items.

The only salad options were main course, so if one wanted some fresh greens, you didn’t get any other main course. For my meat-and-potatoes Polish father, that would be the equivalent of skipping a meal or wasting away!

Do Hospitals Serve a Heart Healthy Diet (or are they stuck in the low-fat craze)?

One time he tried to cut down on bread by ordering a grilled chicken sandwich, open face. He got a 2-bread sandwich with gravy on top.

He often ordered both ice cream and strawberry shortcake, which was white flour “angel food cake” by the looks of it with whipped cream on top (which was surely a cream-less “topping” of some sort so it was lower in fat). He had fresh fruit with every meal.

He had such a bad experience the first few days with the vegetable sides he ordered that he gave up. The day I was visiting during dinner, he just had a hot roast beef sandwich with plenty of gravy – I’m sure it was low sodium, but still – gravy?? Oh, and ice cream, strawberry shortcake, milk, and fruit.

Can you count the carbs? Not a veggie in sight.

What You Can’t Eat in the Hospital

Fried Eggs over Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Hash with Avocado

There were a few things they denied him because they weren’t on the “heart healthy” diet:

  • ham in his omelet (but he could have 2 slices of “low-sodium” bacon every day or turkey sausage, well-burnt and disgusting according to my dad, who usually eats everything)
  • 2 fried eggs (but he could have 2 poached eggs and toast)
  • an egg salad sandwich (but highly ironically, the day he missed dinner because of a procedure, they brought him food from the deli – egg salad sandwich and ice cream. Is the diet important enough to keep records throughout a patient’s stay or only in the daytime?????)
  • butter – the meals could come with margarine of course (shudder)

Everything was obviously low fat and low sodium (no salt packets on the tray, ever). I actually sprinkled some of my Real Salt from the pocket shaker I always have in my purse on his stir fry before hugging him good-bye one evening. I believe salt is important to our health!

One example of the low fat effort was the milk. He ordered 2% milk the first day and got a tiny carton, “hardly two swigs!” he complained. The nurses let him in on the secret: if he ordered 1%, he’d get twice as much. My parents drink whole milk at home, switching to it from 1% ever since I started learning more about nutrition through writing KS.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Oh, and fresh veggies of course.

He couldn’t get those.

Because really, why would anyone trying to heal from surgery need vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, plant phenols, raw enzymes or fiber?!?

I’m sure all the new moms resting after childbirth don’t need any of those things either.

I just hope they are allowed to order breakfast or get some sort of sustenance earlier than he was, which was often 9:30 or 10 a.m. When that newborn wakes mama up at 5:30 in the morning for the day, she needs to eat within an hour or ELSE! Really, from everything I read, all people should eat within an hour of waking. Just not if you’re healing from something in the hospital, I guess. (Food was one real reason I chose homebirth for my 4th child after eating as many healthy pregnancy foods as I could!)

Did I mention that my dad had no artery blockages at all? He was in for a valve replacement, which is mostly genetic and probably expected for a heart that’s been hard at work for 79 years. Clearly his high meat, high fat, lotsa-eggs diet was terrible for him. Ahem.

I felt similar anger when I researched hard to help my dad kick bladder cancer and feel great throughout chemo, but the doctors didn’t seem to care.

The Bottom Line – Can we Make Change Happen?

I know this doesn’t apply to all hospitals. I’ve read articles about farm-to-table hospitals with gardens on the roof. But unfortunately, I’m quite sure it applies to many in this country.

When are the people trained to keep us healthy going to understand that food affects our health and get off the low-fat bandwagon?!?

Let’s all just shake our heads and scowl a bit about there being no access to fresh vegetables in a hospital.

And if you are in a position to do anything about this in your area, please do what you can!

Share this post. Tell everyone you talk to that the low-fat movement has been disproven and is NOT healthy. Leave constructive comments after your own hospital stays.

If you’re going to be in the hospital for anything coming up, ask plenty of questions, starting with, “May I bring my own food?” In most that I’ve encountered over the last 15 years, you may. And probably should!

What does your local hospital serve? Is your doctor on board with traditional eating being healthy and anti-processed foods and low-fat junk?

Eat Your Veggies!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

20 thoughts on “News Flash! Sugar and White Flour are Great for Your Heart!”

  1. I had a similar experience in hospital for a pulmonary embolism. I was allowed all the sugar and start I could handle, but couldn’t get fresh veg (except as a no-protein salad), fresh fruit (sugary syrup cups only), or grilled proteins (they did have breaded things and deli meats). It reminded me of my nephews’ schools – they are moving away from cooks preparing and cooking real food, to workers who pass out single-serving cups of this or that and maybe heat a box of this or a can of that for an entree. Disgusting.

  2. I remember when I had my last child (4 years ago) there was only 1 thing I could have on the lunch and dinner menus, and looking back at what I know now I probably shouldn’t have had that. That was simply because I am strictly dairy free because my body simply doesn’t tolerate any amount of it. I am definitely going to need to take my own food with this next baby (currently 19 weeks).

  3. Doctors apparently receive little or no education on nutrition when in school. I bought food into the hospital when my brother was receiving what looked like the water remaining from a can of olives. I think it was suppose to be beef broth but no cow was ever involved with the making of it. The doctor asked my brother why there were apples, oranges, tomatoes and bags of carrots and celery around his room. My brother showed him the “olive” stuff and said he’d never get well drinking it. The doctor walked out looking very puzzled. Be your own advocate!

  4. This issue has always been so baffling to me! The hospital food after my babies were born was always so gross and unhealthy. I was so starving that I scarfed it down anyway, though!

    I was visiting my nephew at a renowned children’s hospital and was appalled at what they were serving him. He was having serious intestinal problems which led to him throwing up blood and when he felt like eating, they served him a red popsicle, a red slushy, and red jello. Not even kidding! Total lack of nutrition aside, I wondered how they would be able to tell if he was throwing up blood again after eating all this artificially dyed red food.

    Surely, there will be changes soon as our culture starts to lean toward healthier, more real food diets!?! In a perfect world, people who love to cook could have good jobs at hospitals and schools cooking real, healing food and getting paid well.

  5. I can relate to this. Due to an injury, I was in the hospital for 2.5 months a year ago. TheI was moved from one hospital in a large group to another to another for surgeries and procedures. At all but one facility I had major food problems. I am allergic to soy and every single artificial sweetener. Due to the nature of my injury, the doctor wanted me to have increased protein. Dinner was almost the same every night, some sort of unidentifiable meat drown in gravy. If I sent my tray back untouched, they would send an egg salad sandwich, made with mayo containing soy. I ordered a soda one day and food service sent me the Pepsi I requested. The nurse grabbed it off my tray and substituted it with a diet caffeine-free Pepsi. Yes, the Pepsi was not healthy but at least I wasn’t allergic to it! I met with the head of hospital nutrition every Monday and the person covering for her on weekends every Saturday morning. Only one hospital was different. They had whole egg omelets made to order, fresh fruits, salads, fresh veggies and would meet my nutritional needs. Sadly, I spend the least amount of time in that hospital. The worst was the 3 weeks I spent in a skilled nursing facility, they had the worst food and would not meet my allergic needs. My daughter brought in yogurt, fresh fruits and veggies, to “supplement” my meals. I still cannot face gravy on my food.

  6. I had a similar experience when my husband was in the hopsital a while back, and share about my boys and my experience eating in the hospital cafeteria on my blog.
    Not to mention the sad state of nutritionists and dieticians in this country and their terrible advice; unfortunately it’s what they’ve been taught. They are (unknowingly) hurting more people than they are helping.

  7. I think this is standard practice at majority of hospitals worldwide. Here in South Africa Muslims generally always take food to our patients because of halaal requirements. Though they might not always be healthy!!!

  8. It is so frustrating! I worked as a nurse and I always thought the hospital menus were absurdly carb and sugar heavy. I argued with the hospital dietitian once questioning how it was “healthy” but I think they think about it differently in terms of fats, calories etc not what the actual ingredients are. And I think as long as the AHA, ADA and other organizations are recommending outdated science like a low-fat diet (and probably corrupted by big Pharma) then there won’t be any real change. Most hospitals and healthcare workers are going to follow those and government recommendations.

    Also as a nurse I would’ve let my patients bring in food if it was healthy, but 99% of the time they were wanting to bring in fast food!

  9. My daughter was in the hospital for 5 nights (6 days) following surgery, and they did a good job of providing a variety–healthy foods as well as ones I cringed at but realized were the only thing she could stomach at the moment. Popsicles and otter pops were essential for getting medicine down (bribe factor plus masking the taste and distracting her from the nausea). Midway through I went to a natural foods grocery and got some fruit-sweetened and -colored popsicles because I couldn’t stand the idea of all that dye adding to the toxic load her liver was already dealing with.

    I think the sugary unhealthy choices are there partly for enticing patients to eat something when they’re having trouble getting food down, and partly for giving them a sense of fun when they’re in an environment that is not at all fun. Not that we want to encourage eating to suppress emotions and all, but in hospitals it is nice to have a little comfort where you can get it, and the staff there knows that food can be one of those places for most Americans!

  10. After my husband’s heart attack and stent placement, he had to stay on his back for several hours. When I called to order his dinner, they said he could only order finger foods. They suggested chicken strips and fries. They refused to substitute green beans for fries saying they were not a finger food!

    1. Laura Snell @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Ha! Tell that to my six year old. She can make a finger food out of anything. 😉
      That’s really too bad the hospital wouldn’t let your husband eat green beans with his fingers.

  11. Thank you soooo much for writing this!!! I hope it starts a movement in hospitals across the country. I’ve had hospital stays after four of my children were born, when home births were not an option due to minor complications. I was appalled by the food choices! One of the hospitals even touted their onsite greenhouses and gardens, yet would not serve raw veggies to patients. I’m not quite sure what they are growing in their gardens and greenhouses – perhaps just flowers for their gift shop :-). The honey, butter, maples syrup, juice, etc that they served were made of corn syrup and other artificial ingredients. The seasoning packet they give you in place of salt has silicon dioxide in it. I’d much prefer regular, plain salt instead and it would probably cost the hospital less. How about a fresh apple? Nope, they offered a fruit cup with corn syrup in it and where the fruit chunks are mushy and discolored. It is just not ok to serve people who are sick or needing to heal food that will only hinder their health not promote it. Thanks again for getting the word out!

  12. Ugh! I just had a short hospital stay (pregnancy related) this past weekend and they let me order some food in order to get the baby moving. I ordered a fruit cup, french toast and cranberry juice. What I got was a fruit cup, what looked like deep fried and sugared bread sticks with “syrup” and cranberry “juice”. Both the syrup and the juice had sugar and high fructose corn syrup as the first two ingredients! I realized I should have just ordered half a dozen fruit cups and water instead – it was awful 😛

  13. We had similar experiences with my mom at the top hospitals in the top Medical Center in the country. She was hospitalized many times for stroke, heart attacks, and cancer. I made good progress with her diet at home, but she’d go to the hospital and eat nothing but ice cream and cake. It was infuriating.

    I can say from experience though, as far as raw veggies go, there are certain floors in most hospitals that have patients with severely compromised immune systems. Those floors are not allowed any type of plant – flowers, salad, raw veggies, etc. I’m sure that’s not the case with the floor your dad was on. But some hospitals don’t even offer raw plant food for this reason.

    There has to be a compromise though. Healing cannot take place with so much sugar feeding the malicious organisms that are causing the illness!

  14. “When are the people trained to keep us healthy going to understand that food affects our health and get off the low-fat bandwagon?!?”
    Sadly, the employees of hospitals and other medical care establishments are NOT trained to keep us healthy. Most are also not trained to help us get healthy if we are sick. They are trained to prescribe pharmaceuticals.
    Avoid hospitals and doctors as much as possible. Eat healthy whole foods, mostly plants, and not too much.

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