Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hospitals need to rethink food

If you've ever spent anytime in a hospital, you know that "hospital food" is an oxymoron. Hospitals are meant to be centres for healing. And food, to me, is a source of nourishment and wellness. My mother-in-law's case is a sad example of the food failure in our hospitals.

First, a bit of background. Nanny has been battling a painful foot infection for more than three months. She's been on several different antibiotics, all useless. The onslaught of drugs have only weakened her 87-year-old body. She's become so frail that she passed out and fell flat on her face a week ago. She suffered lacerations and contusions. She is now in hospital with, not one, but two intravenous lines pumping even more powerful antibiotics into her. Doctors tell us that she'll continue to be on these drugs for another three weeks, at least. That's on top of the blood thinning and hypertension medications.

The stronger, intravenous antibiotics may help manage the infection in her foot, so say the doctors  with little certainty. What's for sure is that the meds have already rendered her immune system extremely vulnerable. The antibiotics have killed off the beneficial bacterial. Because of this and her advanced age, one doctor told us, Nanny needs to be monitored for e-coli, c-difficle and other infections that can be fatal to the elderly.

I asked the doctor, "What we can do for prevention? Can we help through her diet?"

Looking slightly stunned by the question, she replied, "Well, I'll make a note in her file for a consult with a nutritionist. Plenty of yogurt and probiotics will help."

This was the first time since Nanny's illness and treatment that a health care professional has mentioned the importance of proper nutrition. (I doubt the butterscotch caramel pudding and the cup-a-soup on Nanny's food tray have a single healthful ingredient.)

When I got back home from the hospital, I poked around in my refrigerator and found some good sources of probiotics. These are foods we'll be feeding Nanny when we visit her again.

Some yogurt with honey...

Soybean paste made into a warm miso soup...
and a glass of water with a probiotic supplement. 
Kefir, as well as pickled and fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, are other sources of probiotics. The bacteria in these foods are very beneficial for the digestive tract, even if you're not on antibiotics.

For centuries around the world, food has been used as an accessible and inexpensive means to heal and prevent illness. In our technologically advanced health care system, perhaps it's time to go back to the basics.

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