Hospital Food Used to be Medicinal
This is a piece I have been kicking around in my head for a couple of years now, so I figured what better way to officially launch the blog than to jump right into it.
Hippocrates, the “Father of Western Medicine,” stated to “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This is sage advice in a culture today that seems to be getting exponentially sicker year by year. What is even sadder, is that in the place that people often turn to in order to get better, the hospital, the foods served may even contribute to their decline. It wasn't always this way, nor does it have to be. So let's take a quick look at some of the primary hospital staples and what their intended purpose actually was.
Among the most common hospital foods are yogurt, chicken soup and Jell-O. While the former two still have the air of being health promoting, the latter has long since been thought of as being “healthy.” Unfortunately, the traditional, real foods they are based on are incredibly beneficial to improving the healing process. All three play a role in improving the digestive process and particularly the gastrointestinal tract. But in the form currently being administered to hospital patients, they may very well be doing more harm than good.
Let's start with gelatin. In its unadulterated form, gelatin, which is rich in the amino glycine, assists in the maintaining the integrity of the gut lining (1), skin, bones and joints (2, 3, 4), as well as with improving sleep quality (5). While Jell-O technically contains gelatin, it is highly unlikely to be from a quality source and is packed full of other deleterious ingredients.
Original strawberry Jell-O lists it's ingredients as: SUGAR, GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE AND SODIUM CITRATE (CONTROL ACIDITY), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), RED 40.
Whereas, it's sugar-free strawberry variety lists: GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), DISODIUM PHOSPHATE (CONTROLS ACIDITY), MALTODEXTRIN (FROM CORN), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), ASPARTAME** (SWEETENER), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (SWEETENER), SALT, RED 40.
The first thing that jumps out is that there is more sugar in the original than there is actual gelatin; in fact, there is 19g/serving and 76g/package! The artificial flavors and food coloring are also causes of concern. However, when looking at the sugar-free variety, while it is not going to induce an insulin spike, research has indicated that artificial sweeteners can negatively impact the gut microflora (6, 7), in turn impairing digestion.
What about chicken soup? Surely that is healthy? Bone broth is rich in minerals and collagen, as found in gelatin and has many of the same benefits to the gut lining, bone and soft tissue health. Moreover, research has indicated that it may even exert an anti-inflammatory effect (8). But again, this is a case of “food products” versus real, traditional foods.
A look at the the popular Swanson chicken broth finds the ingredients to be: CHICKEN BROTH, SALT, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, DEXTROSE, YEAST EXTRACT, CHICKEN FLAVOR, FLAVORING, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, CHICKEN FAT, HYDROLYZED SOY PROTEIN, CHICKEN BROTH POWDER.
Similar to Jell-O, it is beyond the scope of this article to dissect the various problems in depth, but it contains multiple forms of MSG, a potential neurotoxin (9), sugars, soy and chicken fat, assuredly from conventional sources. Moreover, it is no where near as rich in the minerals and gelatin produced when the broth is made at home.
Finally, yogurt is another of the foods that could provide great benefit to sick patients, but not necessarily the kind they are receiving. The probiotic bacterial strains found in yogurt, and the compounds they secrete, have been found to improve intestinal wall integrity and the gut microflora (10, 11, 12, 13). That being said, let's look at some popular yogurts to see where they stand.
Sticking with the strawberry theme from the Jell-O, Dannon Fruit on the Bottom includes: CULTURED GRADE A REDUCED FAT MILK, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, WATER, CONTAINS LESS THAN 1% OF KOSHER GELATIN, NATURAL FLAVOR, CARRAGEENAN, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE, BETA CAROTENE AND VEGETABLE JUICE (FOR COLOR), MALIC ACID, VITAMIN D3.
While the Dannon Light & Fit contains: CULTURED GRADE A NON FAT MILK, STRAWBERRIES, WATER, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, FRUCTOSE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 1% OF MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, NATURAL & ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, KOSHER GELATIN, SUCRALOSE, MALIC ACID, POTASSIUM SORBATE (TO MAINTAIN FRESHNESS), ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, SODIUM CITRATE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, RED 40, VITAMIN D3.
Now, this is where things get ugly. Both varieties contain ingredients that can induce intestinal inflammation and alter the gut microflora in the forms of carrageenan (14) and the artificial sweeteners and colors, respectively. They both unnecessarily add extra sugar in the forms of sugar and fructose, respectively; the latter of which is linked to increased intestinal permeability (15) and potentially subsequent gut dysbiosis (16).
Now to be fair, they do offer their “All-Natural” Plain variety, well with the only ingredient being: CULTURED GRADE A MILK. However, none of the milk used in any variety was organic, grass-fed or pasture-raised.
Going back to original point, while we don't know for sure what exactly is being served in each individual hospital, it is relatively safe to assume that most are using these or similar brands, as opposed to higher quality ones or even preparing everything fresh. While you cannot control what it is you are being fed if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of a hospital bed, it is interesting to look at the potential therapeutic properties of common historical hospital foods. As such, it would be prudent to try to incorporate these foods into your everyday life to help improve your health.
Rather than eating Jell-O, it would be better to get the benefits found in actual gelatin, such as in Great Lakes Grass-Fed Beef Gelatin. Instead of going to the store and picking up a can of chicken broth, why not take your left-over bones and make your own bone-broth. And when choosing your fermented foods, it is better to go with ones that come from organic, grass-fed milk such as Maple Hill Creamery Yogurt. Make these rich-food switches to improve your health and be on your way to living your optimal life!
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