Hospital Food Loses Value from Hand to Mouth: A Tale of Desiccated Peas

October 20, 2006

MONTCLAIR, N.J. -- Hospital food, quality not withstanding, is less nutritious than anticipated in the kitchen, according to researchers here. Consider the pea and vitamin C.

MONTCLAIR, N.J., Oct. 20 -- Hospital food, quality not withstanding, is less nutritious than anticipated in the kitchen, according to researchers here.

Consider how vitamin C degrades progressively on the journey of the pea to the bedside.

As vegetables go through the cooking, waiting and delivery process on their way to the bedside, nutrient levels drop significantly to below expected values, Charles Feldman, Ph.D., of Montclair State University, and colleagues, reported in the June issue of the Journal of Foodservice. They looked at peas.

"Nutrient data standards were ostensibly derived from experiments made in ideal conditions that did not take into account the rough-and-tumble rigors of an actual hospital foodservice system," the investigators wrote.

Standard values for vitamin C and other nutrients in foods are set by various national and non-governmental agencies. Physicians, dieticians and menu planners rely on these figures to ensure patients receive enough nutrients to heal and recover, the investigators pointed out.

The researchers used vitamin C in green peas as a marker of nutrient quality to measure oxidative and thermal degradation through the food service process at two hospitals in New Jersey.

They reported that frozen peas at both hospitals had comparable vitamin C to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards (16.7 mg hospital A and 16.1 mg hospital B versus 14.4 mg U.S.D.A.) when they started.

Once the peas were high-pressure steamed, levels dropped but within the USDA reference values for cooked peas (6.3 mg hospital A and 10.2 mg hospital B versus 7.9 mg USDA). This method of steaming has been found to be one of the best ways to preserve nutrients during cooking, Dr. Feldman and colleagues noted.

While the peas were holding in the trayline, kept hot in a steam table before plating, ascorbic acid levels continued to fall. Samples collected at this point had 4.5 mg and 7.0 mg vitamin C at the two hospitals, respectably, which was a significant decrease compared to the steamed samples (P?0.05).

The situation became even grimmer as the peas were finally delivered to the patients' doors on covered, heated plates. Vitamin C fell significantly below the 7.9 mg-reference value for cooked peas at both hospitals at the delivery stage (2.4 mg hospital A and 5.5 mg hospital B per 80.0 g of peas versus 7.9 mg USDA, P

They acknowledged that the study was limited by the sample size.