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Why Do Hospitals Serve Such Unhealthy Food?

Updated on November 18, 2015

How Bad is Hospital Food?

Anyone who is hospitalized nowadays is very sick. However, three times a day, they are served food with very questionable health benefits. These meals are typically loaded with sodium, sugar and various chemicals.

No concern is given to the fact that hospital food trays are loaded with GMOs. Apparently, no one is bothered by the mounting evidence that these engineered offerings are now being linked to cancer.

Soda is sometimes served as a beverage, along with coffee or tea that may come with artificial sweetener and fake powdered cream, which may contain artery clogging trans fats.

In between meals, "hospitality carts" are wheeled into patient rooms, loaded with bagels and sweet treats, either they or their visitors can purchase.

If patients leave their rooms, for a little exercise, they'll probably end up strolling past a vending machine filled with candy and soda.

Although the connection between good nutrition and good health is well established, ironically, one of the last places you can expect to eat well is in a hospital.

Of course, hospital fare has earned a reputation of being starchy and tasteless. But new concerns are being raised over the issue that not only is is unappetizing, but it also isn't conducive to recovery.

It appears as if this isn't going to change, as preparing more nutritional recipes from whole foods is more expensive than using packaged mixes.Most hospitals, nowadays, are closely watching the bottom line.

Typical junk food served in a hospital.
Typical junk food served in a hospital. | Source

But Hospital Fare is a Bit Healthier in New York City

The critics of hospital food are numerous. They include New York City Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In the fall of 2012, while still in office, he enacted a measure called the Healthy Hospital Food Initiative to keep the junk out of both the city's public and private in-patient care facilities.

This controversial measure outlawed vending machine candies and deep fried foods in the cafeteria. These new restrictions apply primarily to visitors, who tend to order these meals. Patient meals had already been overhauled prior to this initiative.

In addition to a ban on deep fried and sugary foods, patients in New York City also consume low-fat milk, low-sodium meals and canned fruit in its own juice, rather than being fed chunks of fruit swimming in high-fructose corn syrup.

However, critics have dubbed these measures the "nanny state." However, city hospital administrators were on board with the effort to institute cleaner eating, according to published press reports. One official whose private institution willingly signed on was quoted as saying it would be "hypocritical," to serve food that could exacerbate someone's health problems.

A Ban on Junk Food in New York City Hospitals

New York City banned hospital junk food.
New York City banned hospital junk food. | Source

Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients: A Book that Discusses Dietary Interventions in the Treatment of Cancer

Aspartame, Trans Fats, Sugar and Table Salt

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is particularly unhealthy. It's no secret that it contributes to a variety of the conditions people throughout the United States struggle with, such as cancer, hypertension and diabetes. Cancer rates throughout the developed world, which eats American-style food, have shot upward.

This diet, it's acronym is appropriately named SAD, contains a lot of trans fats. These increase the level of inflammation in the body. Some health practitioners believe inflammation is the root cause of all disease. Trans fats are processed oils that have an extended shelf life. But they differ chemically from oil in its natural state. Trans fats are found in snack foods as well as margarine. This condiment is commonly used, instead of butter, in hospital settings.

Many patients are hospitalized because of cancer. Sugar feeds malignancies, which is why patients who go for a diagnostic scan first drink a glucose-based solution. Because cancerous cells gobble sugar, the radioactive markers in the solution attach themselves to troublesome areas, making them more visible on film.

Aspartame is a sugar substitute that was nearly banned by the FDA, but, for some reason, was approved for use at levels greatly lower than what the average American now consumes. Naturopathic practitioner Dr. Joseph Mercola, DO, believes this sweetener is highly dangerous. It's been linked to a number of serious health conditions, and there's evidence it can even cause brain tumors. (At least it did in animal models.)

Hospital desserts served to diabetic patients will usually contain aspartame. A much healthier alternative to aspartame is stevia, an all-natural plant-based sweetener.

Table salt is unhealthy because it is chemically processed and no longer resembles the real salt our bodies need. It also doesn't contain all of the minerals found in natural salt.

Hospital fare is not nutritious.
Hospital fare is not nutritious. | Source

Treating Cancer with a Non-Toxic Approach

The Added Problem of Genetically Modified Food

Genetically modified food is used to make processed products, at least in the United States. Unfortunately, genetically modified corn has been shown to cause mammary cancer in laboratory animals. Although no similar human studies have been conducted, there has been an alarming spike in the number of diagnosed cases ofbreast cancer in the last two decades.

European researchers have also found a connection between GMOs and lymphoma. It's interesting to note that supermarkets in Europe do not stock genetically modified food, as EU laws require it to be labeled. European consumers clearly do not want to eat engineered ingredients.

Most corn, soy and canola (rapeseed) are grown from GM crops. These are also the low-cost staples of institutional food.

Food Additives and Their Known and Reported Problems

Trans Fats
Clogged arteries
Heart disease
Muscle Spasms

One Reason Why Hospital Food May be so Unhealthy

No Widespread Agreement on What Constitutes "Healthy" Food

One problem with mandating that hospitals serve better food is that there's no widespread agreement as to what constitutes a healthy diet.

Some people may believe it's a simple matter of eliminating fried foods and serving more salads. But these salads may come with low-fat dressings that contain trans fats or even aspartame.

Or, a hospital cafeteria may be ordered to serve only wheat bread. But, unless it's organic, or made without GMOs, this "healthier" choice may still be adding to the same problems that landed the patient in the hospital.

One hospital websites advertising "healthier" food has gotten rid of regular soda. But it's been replaced it with diet soda, sweetened with aspartame.

This same children's hospital also offers parents the option of bringing food from home, and then heating it in a microwave. However, this type of cooking will destroy nutrients and possible create foreign and toxic compounds.

Mainstream medicine tends to discount the role nutrition plays in the development of disease. However, alternative doctors immediately put seriously ill patients on an all-organic diet with no processed food.

Currently, there exists a huge gulf between this type of clean eating and what's now being served in American hospitals.

Hospital food is highly processed.
Hospital food is highly processed. | Source

What to Do if a Loved One is Hospitalized With a Serious Illness

Most alternative practitioners believe there is a clear connection between diet and recovery from a serious illness. If a loved one is fighting cancer, every meal counts. That's because cancer is often a result of nutritional deficiency. If a loved one is battling cancer, the only way around the problem of unhealthy hospital food is to bring home-cooked organic meals from home.

(Just don't heat them in a microwave.)


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not meant to diagnose‚ treat or cure any disease or medical condition.


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  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    Amen to that! My grandmother was in the hospital a few months ago getting an experimental procedure done on her heart, and I was appalled to discover some of the food they were expecting her to nourish her body with during recovery. Then you go to the hospital food court and there's McDonalds and a donut/pastry shop. That's how she ended up in the hospital to begin with!

  • pattyknap profile image

    pattyknap 3 years ago from Long Island, NY

    those trays sure look unappetizing!

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Fantastic article, thank you. I am certain that now I would bring in food depending on the hospital of course. Our Viet-American home culture usually has us bringing food most places.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    I can understand that. Southeast Asian food is delicious.

  • WriterJanis profile image

    Janis 3 years ago from California

    Sad. You would think that of all places, a hospital would serve healthy food.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    It is so sad. I wonder why the medical staffers don't complain about this.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

    My sister was recently in the hospital and I wondered exactly what your topic stated. Being diabetic, I would have thought they'd avoid heavy starches and sugars in general. Yes, GMO's are another question!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi teaches12345, sorry to hear about your sister. You would think a diabetic patient would be fed something that won't aggravate her condition. It's crazy.

  • CraftytotheCore profile image

    CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

    I've been hospitalized a few times in the past couple of years. Our local hospital publishes a menu for patients. The condiments are now separate, but still available. I would order chamomile tea with honey with my meals. The last time I was in the hospital, I had a roommate with a sugar addiction. She ordered multiple packs of sugary cereal and would snack on them during the day. Then at night she would order cheesecake or chocolate cake with her dinner. Every time I've been in the hospital, I gain weight!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Maybe the hospitals think they're doing a good thing by providing so much comfort food, I don't know. It sounds as if your food was at least tasty. :)

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I haven't stayed in a hospital since childhood, but I have visited other people there. If I'm visiting when meals are delivered I'm often surprised by their ingredients. You are so right, ologsinquito - it's important that people in hospital receive healthy and nutritious food to help them recover!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Alicia, it is really shocking. I've always wondered why this happens.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

    This is a wonderful and informative hub. Yes, you would imagine that if one place cared about serving healthy food it would be a hospital. Pity that isn't usually the case. Good on New York City. It is alarming the amount of people drinking diet soda and using margarine thinking they are healthier alternatives to regular soda (which is still bad) and butter. These fallacies have now been proven but people are blind to the facts. Well done, voted up.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Thanks so much Jodah. It is a terrible thing that even hospitals can't serve healthy food.

  • Faith Reaper profile image

    Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

    Awesome article and good for NY for banning junk food in hospitals! This is a valid concern and one wonders why unhealthy food is allowed to be served in hospitals in the first place? Makes no sense. Up and more and sharing. Blessings, Faith Reaper

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Faith Reaper, this situation truly is insane. Thank you so much for reading.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

    I think one of the problems is that doctors spend very little time studying nutrition in medical school. You would think that hospitals would have a nutritionist supervise the kitchen, but they don't seem to. I knew of an old-age home that had a nutritionist employed, but she wasn't allowed to supervise the menus; she could only give advice to the residents! Very weird. Enjoyed your information here and voted up.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Writer Fox, one would think that these doctors would have a good foundation in nutrition. But, then again, so much of their education is driven by the pharmaceutical industry. Thanks so much for reading.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Maybe its why restaurants serve the food they do, so that you keep coming

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Jodah, that's funny :) Maybe it's just good marketing. I never thought of that angle.

  • midget38 profile image

    Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

    It's ironic, and should be looked into. Perhaps it's because organic food is a little more expensive.

  • VVanNess profile image

    Victoria Van Ness 3 years ago from Prescott Valley

    If I could have given this more than one thumbs up, I would have. I feel very strongly about all of these issues with our food. The government, and even the FDA, know about the diseases and illnesses are caused by all that our foods are pumped with and covered with. However, they still allow them to pass through for our consumption.

    Consider that they allow a certain level of arsenic in baby foods, and all of these same problems with hospital foods, in school lunches. Great job!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi VVan, it does make you crazy when you think about what is happening and how much disease is caused by our food supply. Thanks for reading.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    midget, it is very ironic, that the food served in a hospital will likely contribute to the condition.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

    Glad to see this topic highlighted. I've just about decided that in nursing homes the food is job security!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Institutional food is so wretched. It's a wonder these poor people survive as long as they do with that horrible food.

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