Cooking for Cancer Patients
Recently, I met with a breast cancer survivor who explained how important eating was to her recovery. What struck me during our conversation was how little factual information there is on the topic. She asked if I would help her develop a cookbook specifically designed for cancer patients undergoing treatment. Ilove a challenge, but I really had no idea where to start. She said her biggest challenges were with fatigue and energy:
“It is difficult to even think of food or the work that it would take to cook something when you can’t even muster the energy to put on your shoes.”
When researching the topic, I found that protein seems to be the nutrient that cancer patients are most often deficient in. Christine Gerbstadt, MD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, claims, "The radiation, the surgery, the chemo, and the cancer itself can all increase the body's need for protein." Developing recipes rich in protein won’t be difficult, but there are a few other challenges that I’ll need to factor into my creations.
1. Make it simple – The last thing a cancer patient wants or needs is a long list of ingredients and complicated instructions. They are often fatigued, and just getting out of bed can be a challenge. If they actually make it to the kitchen, the recipes better be quick and easy.
2. Avoid acidic foods – Often times, cancer patients develop mouth sores, and acid can aggravate them.
3. Avoid foods that require lots of chewing – Believe it or not, the mere thought of chewing on a tough steak can make them nauseous.
4. Avoid foods that are spicy foods – Taste buds often change during chemotherapy, so it’s best to stay away from strong flavors.
5. Cook with calorie dense ingredients – I know this seems crazy considering that we hear so much today about how we need to cut calories, but the problem with many cancer patients is maintaing a consistent weight. By using foods that pack a lot of calories in every bite, you are ensuring that the patient is getting food that provides them with enough energy... I say bring on the butter!!!
6. Cook with foods high in antioxidants to help build the immune system – Cancer treatment compromises the body’s immune system. Therefore, infection is common in many cancer patients.
All right. I got it. I need to come up with recipes that are packed with protein, are quick and easy, low in acid, soft, not chewy, low in spice, high in calories and antioxidents.
Whew! This is going to be even harder than I thought!
The first thing I thought of was my all time favorite comfort food: mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s already calorie packed, low acid, low in spiciness, and soft. If I can find a way to infuse protein and antioxidants, then we’ll have a winner. Here is my shot at Dressed Up Mac ‘N’ Cheese.
Another food that requires little effort but is packed with protein and calories is Shepherd’s Pie. By adding peppers and sweet potatoes, the antioxidants and nutrients go way up.
Lastly, I came up with a simple recipe for Balsamic-Glazed Chicken that requires very little prep time and very little effort. Basically, all you will need to do is turn the oven on and squeeze a bottle of balsamic glaze over the chicken. This glaze can be found in most grocery stores, usually in the aisle with oils and vinegars.