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As the world wakes up to the health benefits of adorning more plant-based food into our diets, vegan-friendly hospital meals are on the rise.
There are some that view this as a huge celebration, with meat and dairy-free diets long being shown in science to help fight a multitude of deadly diseases.
It also comes at a time where obesity is expected to cost the NHS in the region of £9.7 billion by 2050.
So, what’s taken so long? And, should hospitals remove meat and dairy from their premises entirely?
What we know so far about vegan hospital food
Long gone are the days of sad mush littered across the internet in rate-my-plate style. Not entirely, no, but there have been major advances in health facility menus in recent years.
More organizations are embracing plant-based whole foods for their immense nutritional benefits both physically and mentally.
A remarkable example is Hayek Hospital in Lebanon. While it is a private practice, it sets a clear example in becoming what it proclaims to be the first in the world to serve entirely vegan options.
Earlier this year it revealed how it wanted patients to recover from surgery without animal products because they are “the very foods that may have contributed to their health problems in the first place.”
Elsewhere, both California and New York have instated laws guaranteeing plant-based meals to be available at every mealtime for patients.
But more recently, a different story is being told.
Online organization Vegan Food UK shared two images on its Instagram, sent by followers who had recently been in hospital. Both displayed some positive accolades in plant-based eating, from entire vegan menus complete with nutritious stews and fruit-filled breakfasts.
Hospitals under spotlight
In 2020, former UK health secretary Matt Hancock promised that “good” hospital food would be prioritized. But many argue little has changed, in what is far from “good” news. And that’s because the fate of what’s served to you in your hospital bed still relies on individual trusts and private catering companies.
An independent review of NHS hospitals led by Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust and advised by renowned chef and presenter Prue Leith outlined the problem this repeatedly proposes.
“Too often, the provision of hospital food has been viewed by the NHS in the same way as it views the provision of shelter and warmth. It’s about meeting people’s basic human needs while they happen to be undergoing NHS treatment,” it reads.
And despite the salaries of some NHS bosses stretching a deplorable £300,000, reports within the last two years show that the average patient is allocated less than £1 a head per meal in some cases.
Financial “incentives” are holding back change in the US as well, according to Dr. Saray Stancic, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
The very knowledge arming health professionals is lacking here, she claims, as medical schools frequently spend “zero time on nutrition.”
She adds: “There are few incentives to change the status quo. The board certifying bodies do not ask nutrition questions on exams. In turn, medical schools don’t teach it – often claiming their curricula are already too packed with learning objectives.”
The science behind vegan health
For many experts at least, the answer to the often woeful health system is plant-based. It comes at an especially vital time, with the American Medical Association even recommending plant-based options and the elimination of processed meat.
Allison Lenthall, a fellow member of PCRM notes that there is a “glimmer of hope” in hospitals, with plant-based foods becoming more widely available.
“Gone are the days of cobbling together sides of steamed vegetables and rice to create a plant-based meal. The demand is growing for plant-based options not only as healthier options but also as they meet the needs of many religious traditions and those who suffer from some food allergens, such as dairy, and fish,” they added.
Renowned physician and best-selling author Dr. Michael Greger calls for more hospitals to be completely vegan – and says it all starts with nutrition training while doctors are at medical school.
It could never be more vital, he says, with a staggering 11 million global deaths linked to dietary factors.