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03 Nov 2022 — New York City is rolling out culturally diverse plant-based meals as the primary option for patients at its 11 public hospitals, citing scientific research which suggests plant-based eating offers improved nutritional and health outcomes against animal-based diets. 
The dinner program expands on the health care system’s plant-based lunch default program – launched in March of this year – which boasts a 95% satisfaction rate. Each year, NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H) serves about 3 million meals for lunch and dinner. About half of all inpatients are eligible for plant-based dishes, and 60% have chosen them since the plant-based default program was launched.
According to Dr. Michelle McMacken, executive director for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine at the Office of Ambulatory Care and Population Health, NYC H+H, several major organizations encourage plant-based eating in their nutritional guidelines, including the American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American College of Cardiology.
“Scientific research has shown that plant-based eating patterns are linked to significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and certain cancers. They can also be effective for weight management, as well as treatment of certain chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia,” she tells NutritionInsight.
McMacken adds that NYC H+H is not aware of any public opposition to the plant-based meal program. “The new meals are delicious, nutritious and rooted in communities across New York City, from sancocho to pad thai to falafel. We hope other hospital systems join us in making plant-based meals the default option for their patients,” she says.
Nourishing food as medicine
In the recently published Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy On Hunger, Health and Nutrition, a plan was introduced to institute a “food is medicine” initiative to combat the country’s growing public health concerns by expanding its Medicare program.
Dr. Michelle McMacken, executive director for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine at NYC H+H.“Suboptimal nutrition is the leading risk factor for dying of a chronic disease in the US. We need to support our patients in pursuing nutrition and lifestyle changes to stay healthy and reduce their risks of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and its complications,” continues McMacken.
“Hospital meals often have a general reputation for being bland and not culturally diverse but these meals are being crafted to be nourishing, familiar and delicious. I’m honored to be part of a system that is working to change the type of meals that are served in hospitals.”
NYC H+H’s new program offers 14 plant-based meals, with a selection offered each day. The meals are inspired by the flavors of Latin, Asian and other cuisines that represent the health system’s diverse patient population. Thai noodle bowls, Spanish vegetable paella with yellow rice and a Southern black-eyed pea casserole are just some of the new “chef’s choice” options.
Moreover, food service associates work with patients on meal choice and selection from the beginning of their stay until they are discharged and encourage them to choose healthy meals as part of their healing and recovery plan of care. Patients that are considered high-risk, prescribed a special diet or given a referral can meet with one of more than 100 registered H+H dieticians to learn more about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Non-plant-based options continue to be available and are offered in accordance with a patient’s prescribed diet.
Political support for preventive medicine
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has offered his support for H+H’s plant-based meal initiative, citing growing recognition that food consumption – not DNA – is pivotal to human health. Since January, the city has introduced Plant-Powered Fridays in schools, fresh produce into the nation’s only municipal emergency food system and expanded Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Clinics to public hospitals across all five boroughs.NYC H+H’s southern black-eye pea casserole with plant-based corn bread topped with plant-based cheese.
“Now, we are proud to announce the successful rollout and expansion of default plant-based lunch and dinner options at all H+H sites. This transformative program is already changing lives, empowering patients to take control of their own health and further cementing New York City as a leader in preventive medicine,” says Adams.
Meanwhile, New York City Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr. believes the program could be particularly effective in Bronx county, which has the undesirable label of “New York’s unhealthiest county.”
“Poor diets caused by limited access to healthy foods have led many Bronxites to suffer from severe health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. I am thrilled NYC H+H’s wildly successful plant-based menu at Lincoln Hospital, one of three city hospitals chosen to participate in the plant-based food pilot program, has paved the way for a city-wide rollout,” states Salamanca.
H+H plans to offer plant-based dinner options at all hospitals this fall and, by year’s end, plant-based supplements and tube feeds. The system will also offer plant-based menu options to post-acute care facilities by January.
The new program builds on the Meatless Mondays initiative – launched in 2019 – in collaboration with then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Elsewhere in the US, a new study revealed that people living in “food deserts” – areas and communities that have minimal to no access to nutritious foods – may have an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and premature death.
By Joshua Poole
This feature is provided by FoodIngredientsFirst’s sister website, NutritionInsight.
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