How Food Can Heal: Insights from Inpatient Nutrition

By
Katherine Brooks
Image
Registered dietitians Jen-Wei Liu and Kaitlyn Wright
Left to Right: Jen-Wei Liu, RD, and Kaitlyn Wright, RD.
Section types

HIGHLIGHTS | Food Heals

  • Nutritional status can influence your health outcomes.
  • Protein helps the healing process.
  • It’s never too late to develop nutrition-based habits.
  • Make your nutrition game stronger by signing up for Veggie Madness.

 

Working in healthcare can be demanding — both physically and emotionally.

Registered dietitians Jen-Wei Liu and Kaitlyn Wright work at UW Medical Center – Montlake in the Intensive Care (ICU) and Transplant units, respectively. They both subscribe to the belief that nutritious food and a great care team make all the difference when you find yourself in the hospital — or working at one.

“Our bodies consider food as medicine,” says Liu. “The nutrients support new cell growth, strengthen our immune systems and promote better outcomes.”

To help you fuel your body both at home and at work, Liu and Wright share their top learnings from inpatient nutrition.

It’s all about balance

Dietitians work with food service managers to create well-balanced meals and educate patients in making food choices that support them both in their hospital stay and beyond.  

For Liu, gathering the nutritional history of newly admitted patients to the ICU is the first step to providing specialized care because the ICU is a critical crossroads for patient care. Detailed diet information helps Liu make sure that patients are getting enough of the right vitamins and nutrients to help them heal through the health crisis they are experiencing.

Liu says that patients who come into the hospital with a good nutrition status and continue to make nutrition-based food choices during their hospital stay often have a better healing process.

Wright sees similar outcomes too.

“Some conditions that lead to the need for a transplant can be improved or prevented with nutrition,” says Wright. “And better nutritional status before the transplant also improves outcomes after transplant.”

What they are saying is: it’s good to start thinking about nutrition before you end up in the hospital.

Protein is integral to healing and resilience

Whether you’re healing from surgery, lifting weights at the gym or pulling a long day at work, protein helps build up the muscle that you break down.

“We encourage patients to get their protein requirements and have balanced meals, and we have them drink supplements if they don’t have much of an appetite,” says Liu. “This helps build the immune system and prevent muscle loss for patients with limited mobility.”

Transplant patients have extra-high calorie and protein needs to help repair muscle and tissue and encourage the body to accept the new organ.

ICU patients have high-protein needs since most patients in critical condition have limited mobility, which causes the body to lose muscle rapidly.

Both types of patients benefit from protein since it can help build the immune system by providing antibodies that help fight viral and bacterial infections, which can be detrimental to the healing process.

“Protein is our building block for any type of tissue in the body. We can’t heal without getting enough protein,” says Wright. “That fuel is going to help you heal.”

Develop nutritious habits

“The best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago and the next best time is now,” says Wright. “It’s like that for nutrition too.”

Creating habits and routine can help you get started.

For Wright, it’s about meal prepping.

“My pressure cooker is helpful, and I like to make things I can prep the night before,” says Wright. “Like overnight oats with fiber and protein or other things that I can cook in batches.”

For Liu, it’s about time management.

“I don’t limit myself and I am not picky,” says Liu. “But I always bring my own lunch to work and take the time to prepare my breakfast and dinner.”

It’s easy to give advice to patients, but it’s harder to follow that same advice. You can find resources for staying healthy in healthcare through the Whole U and Right as Rain.

Play with Your Food

Both Liu and Wright are participating in UW Medicine’s Veggie Madness tournament. Liu is hoping for a win from her favorite vegetable, Broccoli, and Wright is cheering on Beet.

Fill out a bracket, see how your picks are faring and discover recipes to help make your nutrition game stronger.

Did You Know?

Employees and their families receive priority access to care scheduling. 206.520.5050

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