Cooking for friends with cancer: Skip the comfort food

Health coach Cheryl Rojic suggests fresh foods, such as spring rolls, for cancer patients in her cooking class. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Health coach Cheryl Rojic suggests fresh foods, such as spring rolls, for cancer patients in her cooking class. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

The news comes in a phone call or an e-mail from your relative, friend or neighbor: They’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

What can you do? How about bringing over a meal?

Hold that thought. And don’t hurry to the computer, because the information linking cancer and food isn’t always reliable.

“The first thing people do is bring over the comfort food, and it’s loaded with cheese and dairy, or it’s cookies and cakes, and it’s feel-good food, but it’s detrimental to the recovery of the cancer patient,” says Cheryl Rojic, a holistic-health coach trained at Integrative Nutrition. She is also a cancer survivor and works with cancer patients.

“I think people panic. It’s ‘OMG, something’s wrong, so let’s feed them with comfort food.’ Those foods can cause a happy reaction in the brain, but only for a short time. You can eat a couple spoonfuls of a cheesy casserole, and half an hour later, you’re exhausted and depressed.”

Instead, Rojic suggests recipes that use fresh organic produce and raw foods. Unroasted cashews, macadamia nuts or pumpkin seeds, which can be soaked in water and then blended into protein-rich purees and nut butters.

“Fresh, organic foods are usually the best — fresh berries, organic chicken, something like that, is better than the cheesy pile of pasta whatever,” she said.

Ask before you cook

Rojic and other nutritionists — and their clients — want well-meaning friends to ask their loved ones a few questions before heading for the kitchen. For example:

Has cancer altered your sense of taste? Appetite? Your sense of smell?

    Does your treatment program leave you with a sore mouth?

    Do sweet foods seem sweeter to you now?

    Do you find sour or spicy foods appealing?

    Do you prefer bland foods?

    What specific foods have you stopped eating?

    What kind of protein appeals to you now?

    Has your treatment program resulted in constipation or diarrhea? (Too much information, perhaps, but important in knowing which ingredients to use or avoid.)

Unless they’ve been a cancer patient or a caregiver, most people don’t know that different kinds of cancer, and different cancer treatments, alter the way bodies process food. Someone with a sore mouth will find it difficult or painful to eat raspberries or flaxseeds, which have sharp, irritating points that can injure the patient’s tender mouth.

“It really varies according to what kind of cancer people have,” said University of Colorado Cancer Center clinical dietitian Lisa Wingrove, who was her husband’s primary caretaker when he underwent cancer treatment.

“What we tend to find is that people, even before starting treatment, will have taste changes, because of changes in their hormones and the inflammation that occurs as part of your body’s response to having cancer.”

Find the rest of this story and associated recipes by Claire Martin on The Denver Post.

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2 Responses

  1. Deb says:

    Good info. Thanks!

  2. Dawn Langis says:

    Good information. It also gives someone a topic they can discuss with the patient. So often we feel uncomfortable talking about the big “C” and therefore don’t talk. This allows the patient to know you really care.

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