Hospital Food is Bad for your Health

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

A leading consultant gastroenterologist, Dr. Anthony O’Connor, has warned that hospital food is bad for your health. Speaking after the annual general meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation, he said that being in hospital is a good time to reinforce healthy eating habits. However patients are regularly served unhealthy meals such as deep fried sausages, chips and salty bacon, even when they are suffering from serious heart problems. It is interesting to see this important issue being raised at last, but it’s really only the tip of the iceberg of a serious lack of regard for the importance of nutrition within the medical establishment.

I am frequently shocked when patients come to the clinic on all sorts of medication for various problems, yet they have never been given any advice about which foods they should eat or avoid, or even been asked about their diet. I have seen people taking statin drugs for high cholesterol (which can be associated with numerous side effects) who tell me they eat fried foods, crisps and chocolate on a daily basis, and were never asked about their diet, or advised to alter it in any way. I have seen people (including young children) with severe digestive problems, taking various medications that make little difference to their symptoms, make a complete recovery when they exclude certain foods from their diet.

The association between diet and both digestive and cardiovascular disease is well known. However, the foods we eat have a far-reaching effect on every aspect of health, and there are few if any conditions that are not affected by our diet. A great deal of research has been conducted in recent years on the effects of diet and psychology, with food intolerances and consumption of artificial additives being linked to all sorts of conditions, such as ADHD, autism, depression and even schizophrenia. It is not proposed that poor diet is the sole cause of these conditions, but that what a person eats has a huge impact on the severity of the symptoms.

Likewise, diet is extremely important in the prevention and treatment of cancer. While it is not sufficient as an alternative to conventional treatment, it can certainly make all the difference when the two are combined. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables, contain various nutrients such as antioxidants and salvestrols, which are deficient in most cancer patients; while a low fat, high fibre diet helps to clear cancer-causing substances from the body.  On the other hand, consumption of large amounts of wheat, dairy products, and meat (especially bacon and ham) tends to increase the risk of developing the disease.

Refined sugar is also likely to increase cancer growth, and this fact is well known by the medical establishment, since it is the basis for the PET scan, in which the patient is given sugar that has been radioactively labeled. Since cancer cells feed on sugar, this allows even small tumours to show up on a scan. However, I have seen advice sheets given to cancer patients by hospital-based dieticians, which instruct them to consume high sugar foods, such as ice-cream and lucozade.

There seems to be an obsession with encouraging patients with cancer to put on weight, however this is based on a misconception. People often lose weight because they have cancer: they don’t have cancer because they lose weight, and encouraging them to put on weight by eating sugary and fatty foods will not help their condition. In fact, fat cells are a major source of oestrogen in the body, which is implicated in various types of cancer.

Unfortunately much of this seems to stem from a lack of training in nutrition for doctors, and from a bizarre situation in which the only dieticians who are employed by the HSE are trained on one course, in one college in Dublin. The thousands of nutritionists in this country, many of whom have a more progressive approach to nutrition and health, are not eligible for employment in the health service. However, Mr. O’Connor’s comments show that there are indeed some enlightened individuals within the medical establishment, and hopefully awareness of the importance of nutrition will increase in the near future.

The old saying: “you are what you eat” is absolutely true. A healthy diet, which is appropriate for the individual, will allow that individual to be as healthy as they can be. On the other hand, an unhealthy diet, or one that is not suitable for the person, will invariably lead to ill-health, if not in the short term, then certainly in years to come. Of course it is not always easy to know what type of diet is most appropriate, but seeing a qualified nutritionist can help you to get your health back on track.

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Easter Eggs

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Easter is nearly here and the shops are packed full of Easter Eggs. The chocolate Easter Egg is a relatively new phenomenon, since Easter Eggs were traditionally made by dying or painting ordinary hens eggs.

In earlier times, eating eggs during Lent was forbidden by the church, leading to the custom of using up all the eggs in the house to make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. At Easter time, eggs were dyed red to represent the blood shed by Christ on the cross. The hard shell of the egg was seen to represent the tomb of Christ, and cracking the egg symbolised his resurrection from the dead.

Aside from being important as a symbol of new life in the springtime, eggs (the real variety that is, not the chocolate ones!) are also an inexpensive and very rich source of various nutrients, which provide numerous health benefits:


Eggs are a very good source of  high-quality protein, and contain all 9 essential amino acids. Various studies have shown that eating protein-rich foods such as eggs at breakfast time helps you to feel fuller for longer, and actually increases weight loss.

Vitamin D

Eggs are one of only very few natural foods that contain vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D is best known for its role in bone health, but recent research has highlighted numerous other health problems that can result from inadequate vitamin D intake including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and various types of cancer.

The average person in this country has vitamin D levels of less than two thirds of the recommended amount, which is not really surprising, given the lack of sunshine in this country compared to other parts of the world. Eggs are therefore an eggselent (!) source of additional vitamin D.

Vitamin B12, choline and folic acid.

These nutrients are all part of the vitamin B complex, and are important for the healthy functioning of the cardiovascular system, the nervous system and the brain.

Choline, together with vitamin D and other nutrients found in eggs, is important for cancer prevention, and studies have shown that women who consume an egg a day have a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer.


Egg yolks contain various carotenoids including lutein, which helps to prevent eye problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. The carotenoids found in eggs are more readily available in the body than those from other sources.

Healthy fats

One egg contains just 5 grams of fat and only 1.5 grams of that is saturated fat. Egg yolks do contain cholesterol, and in the past, health experts advised people to avoid them. However recent research has shown that eating an egg a day does not increase cholesterol levels, and moderate consumption of eggs may actually help to reduce cholesterol.

Studies have also shown that there is no link between moderate egg consumption and heart disease, and in fact, regular consumption of eggs may help to prevent blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. The healthy fats in eggs may also help to reduce other inflammatory diseases.


If you are buying eggs, it is best to choose free-range organic eggs, which have been produced by hens that have been allowed to roam freely, given natural additive-free feed, and not treated with antibiotics. The carotenoids give egg yolks their yellow colour, and if you have ever bought free-range eggs, you will no doubt have noticed that the yolk is much more yellow in these. Free-range organic eggs are also likely to contain much higher levels of other beneficial nutrients.

Better still, why not consider keeping a few hens of your own? Provided you have a bit of space for them to roam on, they are remarkably easy to look after and cheap to feed, and you would also be surprised at just how attached you can get to them. Just 2 or 3 hens will provide you with 2 or 3 free-range organic eggs virtually every day of the year, and help you to dispose of a good proportion of your kitchen scraps.

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