The hospital dietitian
Catherine Hames is the dietitian lead for the cardiac rehab team at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She works with cardiac patients both in hospital and the community.
What are the priorities for helping people who have had a heart attack?
There’s evidence that changing your diet can help you lower your cholesterol, lose excess weight, and keep other important factors like blood pressure and blood sugar in check.
How much difference changes to diet will make varies from person to person. Although there might be a number of things that someone needs to work on, we try to focus on the area that’s most important to them. And as we’ll be seeing people again, we can give them information bit by bit rather than all at once.
You really have to persuade some people to come to you, but they often go on to make big improvements, and that’s very rewarding.
How important is hospital food?
I try to make things interesting by experimenting with new recipes and different ingredients
It’s incredibly important. Although people aren’t in hospital for as long as they used to be, hospital food is a good opportunity to get people to healthy foods that they may be less familiar with, like oily fish. Sometimes people are eating too much at home, so it’s good for them to learn about portion sizes too.
We’ve made lots of changes to our hospital menu so that people can make heart-healthy choices. We have also done practical things on the wards like having a fruit basket on the tea trolley instead of just biscuits. As a result, fruit consumption has gone up massively.
How easily do people absorb information about food when they are in hospital?
It can feel like a lot to take in, so we give them a pack that contains all the information we’ve talked through, and we write down their main dietary aims and our contact numbers if they have any questions.
We often go and see people during visiting hours because it’s useful if there are relatives around who might be more able to absorb the information or who might be responsible for most of the shopping and cooking.
How does your work influence your diet?
It’s about balance – nobody wants to just eat boiled cabbage all the time. I try to make things interesting by experimenting with new recipes and different ingredients. It’s about keeping an eye out for what’s around and being open to trying new things.