Keeping up with the trend of “food as medicine”

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Over the past two years, 40% of consumers say their definitions of what’s healthy has changed, according to Technomic’s 2018Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. In response, more hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country are adopting the stance of “food as medicine.” For example, at UNC REX Hospital in North Carolina, the dining program recently opened a food pantry to send qualifying patients home with a week’s worth of healthy groceries. Meanwhile, ProMedica, a large healthcare system based in Toledo, Ohio, recently opened a non-profit grocery store to provide healthy options in a food desert. Other hospital dining programs now include teaching kitchens in which patients learn how to produce healthy meals at home, too.

Healthcare foodservice is also moving toward “stealth health.” That is, sneaking nutrition-rich foods into meals. According to Technomic’s Healthy Eating report, when diners want to eat healthfully, 29% say they do so by integrating at least one healthy element into their meal. In line with this, healthcare programs often suggest easy substitutions that can replace unhealthy ingredients with those that offer nutrition.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, for example, suggests switching out white sugar with one of a number of other sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar or maple syrup, which can contain healthy enzymes, vitamins and minerals. And when it comes to baking, using nut butters, yogurt, and applesauce in place of unhealthy fats can help manage cholesterol, manage weight and protect against heart disease, according to NorthShore. Meanwhile, foodservice departments in the Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers host a once-monthly cooking show, Live It. In the show, experts share ways to sneak healthy ingredients into common foods. For example, their White Chocolate Chip Blondies are made from chickpeas, and in a Berry Whip dessert, the egg is replaced with the liquid drained from chickpeas (called aquafaba).

Even while healthcare foodservice programs expand their healthier options and programs, more indulgent comfort food can be made better quality as well. Technomic’s 2018  Healthy Eating report finds that 76% of consumers consider food or beverage that is described as “fresh” to be slightly or much more tasty. Meanwhile, 45% of consumers believe food or beverage that is described as “clean” is slightly or much more tasty.

To that end, healthcare foodservice programs should incorporate technology such as automated oil management that keeps fryer oil fresh and clean, and prevents fried food from tasting greasy. Even with the best ingredients in the world, if the frying oil isn’t up to par, the food may not reach its full potential.

As an added benefit, better oil management also means the operation will spend less money on oil, and can use that savings to fund “food as medicine” initiatives. An oil management program can also “green up” an operation’s sustainability practices through oil recycling programs that create biodiesel and animal feedstock.

In addition to providing “food as medicine” programs that address poor nutrition and food insecurity, healthcare foodservice program should do all they can to ensure the quality of their ingredients and the sustainability of their kitchen practices.

This post is sponsored by Restaurant Technologies