Meals served to neediest lack nutrients, study says 

click to enlarge homeless meals
  • Anna Latino/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Financial restraints were cited in a new UCSF study that found that free meals served to needy San Franciscans have too little fiber and too much fat.

A study of free meals served to needy people in San Francisco shows patrons are not receiving the proper nutrients from much of the food served.

The study was conducted by UC San Francisco, and it looked at six programs and included 22 total meals over the course of 10 weeks. The study notes that although meals have "too little fiber and too much fat," many food programs are working under money constraints and lack resources.

"Soup kitchens do a ton with the limited resources they have," said Hilary Seligman, a doctor at UCSF who is an author of the study and member of the Board of Supervisors Food Security Task Force. "They're spending $2 on each meal. There's a lack of financial reality between healthy and unhealthy foods."

The study came as a result of the Food Security Task Force, which is looking at how The City may be able to set standards for nutrition in free meal programs.

Seligman said the study was conducted in order to provide the task force with a basic understanding of what was currently being served. While the study found that the meals did not meet nutritional value standards, many more factors should be considered, including whether it's the only meal a person will have that day.

Seligman said soup kitchens are restricted by what food is donated as well as by the space for preparation and the costs associated with putting together the meals.

"If they're getting a lot of rice donated, most meals will have rice in them," she said.

Registered dietician Manuel Villacorta said meal programs can make nutritional food at low costs using ingredients such as rice, beans and lentils.

"We should be looking at the quality of servings," Villacorta said. "I can give someone 2,000-calorie meals, no problem, with hamburger and fries, but it's poor nutrition. I'd rather do rice beans and vegetables because now I'm getting nutrients."

Seligman said the soup kitchens are consistently doing some things well, such as keeping sodium content low and not offering sugary drinks.

According to some estimates, there are nearly 6,000 homeless people in San Francisco, though the free meals are available to all people in need.

There are roughly 16 places for people in need to receive meals in San Francisco at various times throughout the week, and another five locations offer meals once a month. The menus vary based on donations, but some locations offer vegetarian meals.

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