The Abarbanel center.
The Abarbanel center. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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The Health Ministry has issued new nutritional guidelines to psychiatric institutions in an effort to reduce obesity.

The new guidelines will also increase the quantity of Omega 3 fats in patients' diet, since Omega 3 has been proven effective in mitigating psychiatric problems, and increase the quantity of Vitamin C for those who smoke to reduce the harm caused by smoking. But the main impetus for the new rules was the fact that one side-effect of the newest generation of psychiatric medications is a tendency to gain weight.

The new rules have been tested in two psychiatric hospitals over the last few months, and will be binding on all institutions as of this week. They replace guidelines drafted in 1992.

The new regulations for psychiatric hospitals will require detailed computerized tracking of the food given patients, including its calorie count and levels of protein, fat, cholesterol, Vitamin C, iron and calcium.

The daily calorie count may not exceed 2,300 calories. Of that, at most 30 percent may come from fat, of which less than two percent can be trans fats. The food must also include 75 to 90 milligrams a day of Vitamin C for nonsmokers, and an additional 35 milligrams for smokers.

The menu must include a high-value protein (lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, low-fat milk products or vegetable protein ) once a day. Fried chicken schnitzel will be permitted at most once a week, but pudding or yogurt will be served at least twice a week.

Cooked fish will be served twice a week, and canned fish such as tuna or sardines will be served twice a week as well. This is meant to increase the quantity of Omega 3 in patients' diets. Omega 3 has not only been found to help prevent severe psychiatric episodes; it also combats depression and improves the body's response to drugs used in treating depression and anxiety.

Institutions will be urged to serve whole-wheat bread, and to serve a wide variety of starches rather than bread alone. But pizza and bourekas will be allowed at most once a week, and only with a dietitian's permission. Cereal will be permitted only if it sugar-free.

Patients will be given one serving of raw vegetables and one of cooked vegetables each day. But corn, peas, potatoes and sweet potatoes have been removed from the list of permitted vegetables, as they are now classified as starches. Pickles will also not qualify as a vegetable, though they will be allowed once a week.

Institutions will be urged to serve at least four different types of fruit each week so that patients have some variety.

Desserts such as cookies and cake will be served only three times a week. On other days, patients will be given halva, jam, chocolate spread, date spread or peanut butter as their sweet treat.

Foods must be cooked in low-fat oils like canola or olive oil, except when frying, when a mixture of one-third soy oil and two-thirds canola or olive oil may be used. Mayonnaise should be avoided in the summer, as it spoils easily, and only margarine that doesn't contain trans fat may be used.

Finally, institutions will have to lower the quantity of salt in their food.

In other news, the ministry has decided that a planned new rule obliging restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus will only apply to regular menu items, and not to daily specials. A draft of the calorie count regulation was recently circulated to professionals for comment, and will then be submitted to the Knesset for approval.