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The Canton-Potsdam Hospital salad bar. Photo: Julie Grant
The Canton-Potsdam Hospital salad bar. Photo: Julie Grant

Canton-Potsdam Hospital serves up healthier menu

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Hospital food is notorious for being tasteless and badly cooked, featuring unidentifiable gravies, jello cubes, and in recent years, heavily-fried foods.

Health professionals are starting to understand that the food served in hospitals is important to help patients recover, and to teach them how to eat more healthfully once they go home.

With this in mind, the Canton-Potsdam hospital recently revamped its food offerings.

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A typical menu item nowadays doesn't include any partially hydrogenated oils. Photo: Julie Grant The hospital still offers a soda machine, even though many health officials agree soda isn't healthy. Photo: Julie Grant

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Julie Grant
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Dr. Alexandru Stoin is a cardiologist at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital. He used to work in the emergency room. He often met his patients as they were rolled in the door, having a heart attack,“Until one time I realized, ‘Wait a minute, we work so hard for 2 weeks to save someone’s life, and keep him alive. Wouldn’t it better if we all put the effort into preventing this from happening in the first place?’”

Stoin says part of preventing heart attacks is getting people to eat healthier. But much of food served at the hospital back then was covered in what he calls Vaseline: Partially hydrogenated oils, which clog arteries and can contribute to heart disease. So Stoin started to push for improvements in the hospital’s food service. And he switched his own focus from critical care to preventative cardiology. 

Today, the hospital cafeteria doesn’t offer many of those “Vaseline”-coated foods. There are containers of local strawberries, planted herbs, and signs explaining that many of the foods here are heart healthy.

 That’s largely the doing of Steve Gadapee, of a company called Morrison food service. He started running the hospital’s food and nutrition program a couple of years ago. He says when he took on the task, he needed a multi-disciplinary group to fulfill it:“I had to define what heart healthy is going to be for the hospital, knowing its going to be evolving. I needed professionals, from doctors, from the dietician on what heart healthy is, and how it can fit well here."

Gadapee says one thing many cafeterias, in hospitals, schools, and elsewhere, are struggling with these days is not just how to start cooking healthier foods, but how to get people to eat them. We walk through the cafeteria line, and stop to look behind the glass partition at the chicken and burgers on the menu today.

He tells me one thing he’s done is to have turkey burgers on the menu today. “What I’ve found is, you can’t just list as heart healthy, it has to be flavorful. So the chicken today we marinated in lemon and lime overnight, giving a little kick of flavor. The turkey burger has a chipotle sauce. It’s a heart healthy item. I still have to do burgers and fries…I can’t take it all away from them, but it’s giving more options, and they appreciate it, I think.

I notice some people are eating a meaty pizza, and ask Gadapee how that fits in. He tells me when Morrison began providing food for the hospital, “they said whatever you do, don’t get rid of our Sergi’s pizza, and I’m like, I would never do that.

The cafeteria still has a soda fountain. Many health professionals agree that soda can contribute to obesity and other health problems, but Gadapee says he doesn’t think Canton-Potsdam hospital is quite “there” yet, when it comes to banning soda or juice. “Maybe 10 years from now that will be the practice, kind of like you don’t see cigarette machine in the lobby.”

The lunch crowd is winding down, and some of the cafeteria workers have taken a break to have a bite. They say they think the turkey burger is catching on, and now it’s “phenomenal” how many they sell at lunchtime.

The workers say their jobs have changed over the past couple years. Instead of making salads laced with mayonnaise, they’re cleaning and cutting more fresh lettuce. And they’re cooking more foods from scratch. They say many patrons miss the cookies, chocolate, and other snacks.

But Cardiologist Alexandru Stoin says the new menu is so much better for everyone in the long run. And he says it provides a model for patients who need better eating habits to save their lives: “One of the reasons we wanted to do this is the hospital is a place to learn new things. People can realize, learn having lentil soup with spinach we have every Wednesday, it’s actually yummy. It’s better than having the lobster bisque.”

 Lobster bisque does sound pretty good, but all that cream isn’t good for heart patients. Stoin says the next step at Canton-Potsdam is to match a specific menu with a patients’ condition.

 

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