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The Physicians Committee

PCRM Rates Quality of Major Hospital Meals

Hospital Food Keeps Patients Coming Back

“Cutting out cholesterol and reducing the amount of fat in your daily diet will reduce the risk of another heart attack,” says a cardiologist to a patient before angioplasty to remove arterial fat deposits. While recovering in the hospital, the same patient is then served cholesterol-rich roast beef, chicken, and seafood Newburg. Is there a contradiction here? Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common.

PCRM recently assessed the availability of healthful foods at the nation’s top hospitals and, fortunately, the news is not all bad. Of 30 hospitals surveyed, 22 offered cholesterol-free, low-fat meals for their patients. Among those hospitals topping the list are: Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., which received the top honor; Richland Memorial Hospital of Columbia, S.C., ranking a very close second; and Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston, Mass., which came in third. All of the “top ten” hospitals on the PCRM survey offer their patients low-fat and vegetarian entrées with 10 percent or less fat.

Because availability of healthful food was the main criterion for ranking, those hospitals offering no cholesterol-free fare at all rated lowest. At the bottom of the ranks were University of Southern California Medical Center, University of Miami’s Jackson Memorial Medical Center, University Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and the Medical Center at the University of California in San Francisco.

“A hospital should solve health problems, not aggravate them,” said Andrew Nicholson, M.D., PCRM’s Director of Preventive Medicine. “Too many hospitals still serve pork chops and chicken and offer few healthier choices. They are missing a chance to educate a captive audience.”

Some hospitals now offer the heart-disease reversal program pioneered by Dean Ornish, M.D., which uses low-fat, vegetarian meals and other lifestyle factors to help clean away heart blockages. Ironically, some hospitals also feature McDonald’s food for their staff and visitors, bringing to mind Framingham Heart Study Director William Castelli’s comment, “When you see the Golden Arches, you’re probably on the road to the Pearly Gates.”

We commend all of the following hospitals for serving cholesterol-free, fiber-rich entrées to patients who desire them. However, some are much lower in fat than others. This list describes each hospital’s representative plant-based entrée with its percentage of calories from fat. Those hospitals with the healthiest, lowest-fat entrées top the list, although the top ten should all be considered outstanding.

Top Ten

  • Johns Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore, Md.)
    Veggie burger, 3% fat

  • Richland Memorial Hospital (Columbia, S.C.)
    Lentil stew, 4% fat

  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, Mass.)
    Spaghetti with tomato sauce, 5% fat

  • St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital (Houston, Texas)
    Hot vegetable plate, 6% fat

  • Mercy Hospital (Des Moines, Iowa)
    Veggie burger, 9% fat

  • Washington Adventist Hospital (Takoma Park, Md.)
    Vegetable couscous, 10% fat

  • Ben Taub General Hospital (Houston, Texas)
    Pinto beans and Spanish rice, 10.2% fat

  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pa.)
    Veggie three-bean chili, 10.3% fat

  • Medical Center of Central Georgia (Macon, Ga.)
    Veggie chili, 10.4% fat

  • Alegent Health-Immanuel Medical Center (Omaha, Neb.)
    Veggie burgers with gravy, 10.5% fat


  • Beth Israel Medical Center (New York, N.Y.)
    Black-eyed pea stew, 11% fat

  • Allegheny General Hospital (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
    Spaghetti with tomato sauce, 12% fat

  • Scripps Clinic (La Jolla, Calif.)
    Spiced Indonesian stir-fry, 14% fat

  • University of Pennsylvania Medical Center (Philadelphia, Pa.)
    Stir-fried vegetables on rice, 15% fat

  • University of Colorado Hospital (Denver, Colo.)
    Veggie burger, 16% fat

  • Parkland Memorial Hospital (Dallas, Texas)
    Pasta with marinara sauce, 17% fat

  • University of Michigan Medical Center (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
    Veggie chili, 20% fat

  • Children’s Hospital (Boston, Mass.)
    Ziti and grilled vegetables, 22% fat

  • Stanford University Hospital (Stanford, Calif.)
    Red beans and rice casserole, 23% fat

  • Fairview Riverside Medical Center (Minneapolis, Minn.)
    Fourteen-bean soup, 25% fat

  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
    Stir-fried vegetables with tofu, 38% fat

  • Mt. Diablo Medical Center (Concord, Calif.)
    Dairy-free garden lasagna, 46% fat

Behind the Times

Several of the hospitals surveyed did not qualify for high billing, ranking at the bottom. These hospitals do not offer any low-fat, cholesterol-free, plant-based entrées at all. While older “heart diets” include poultry and fish, the more powerful programs that actually reverse heart disease use vegetarian foods. Here are the hospitals that are behind the times, with examples of their outdated “healthy” entrées.

  • Georgia Baptist Healthcare Center (Atlanta, Ga.)
    Roast turkey

  • Sutter Community Hospitals (Sacramento, Calif.)
    Lemon baked chicken

  • University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center (Miami, Fla.)
    Baked chicken

  • Valley Medical Center (Renton, Wash.)
    Chicken cacciatore with rice

  • The Medical Center at the University of California, San Francisco (San Francisco, Calif.)
    Skinless herb-roasted chicken

  • University of Southern California Medical Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)
    Lemon chicken

  • University Hospital (San Antonio, Texas)
    Roast beef

  • St. John’s Mercy Hospital (Washington, Mo.)
    Seafood Newburg with rice


Summer 1997

Summer 1997
Volume VI
Number 3

Good Medicine

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