The National Cancer Institute reported that the United States was home to an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in 2016, and an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2018.1 The number of people surviving cancer is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026.1 All of these patients and survivors need optimal nutrition; however, they either cannot or do not want to eat the way they used to. Whether this is the result of their disease or its treatment, cancer patients and those who have come through their treatment often have trouble eating, spawning cookbooks and expert advice. Here are 2 examples.

ACS Updates Its Classic Cookbook

The American Cancer Society (ACS) published a second edition of its healthy eating guide, What to Eat During Cancer Treatment.2 The 288-page volume features more than 130 easy-to-prepare recipes along with practical advice. Recipes focus on cancer patients’ specific needs. These foods can help patients cope with treatment-related side effects and other eating challenges while undergoing treatment and afterwards. Although specialized for cancer survivors, the recipes create meals that appeal to those with many different taste preferences and in many phases of health. They can also be surprisingly gourmet, incorporating foodie-inspired trends such as acai, kale, quinoa, and whole-wheat pasta.2

The recipes are organized into 7 groups by common eating-related side effects of cancer treatment: nausea, diarrhea, constipation, trouble swallowing, sore mouth or throat, unintentional weight loss, and taste changes. Each group of recipes begins with information on the respective side effect and how to manage it, incorporating clinical experience and evidence-based research. Color-coded letter symbols are used to identify each side effect, making the book a versatile resource for eating while dealing with the different types of cancer and treatment phases. Although it is a cookbook, What to Eat During Cancer Treatment includes extensive advice for caregivers, answers to common questions, important food safety precautions, and guidance for eating and living well after treatment.

This second edition is written by several experts: Jeanne Besser, an award-winning cookbook author; oncology dietitian Barbara Grant, MS, RDN, CSO, a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition; and other experts in nutrition and cancer care from the American Cancer Society. “There is a healing quality to having food you can enjoy even if you’re undergoing difficulties that can come with cancer treatment. You can take comfort from getting the nutrition you need and knowing you’re doing good things for your body by eating healthy food that can help you feel better,” Ms Besser said.

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Chopped Champion Cooks Up Healthy Meals for Cancer Patients

Chef Pnina Peled knows cancer nutrition well. She was executive chef at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (when Oncology Nurse Advisor last spoke with her), and is now senior executive chef at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, both in New York City. Chef Peled is responsible for all food served or sold in New York-Presbyterian hospitals, whether it is in a patient’s room, the cafeteria, or the gift shop. She has great expertise in creating attractive and nutritional food. She is aware that active treatment alters a patient’s appetite and palate, and that the goal after treatment is to strengthen the body again.

Chef Peled offers this advice to cancer survivors: “When you’re in treatment, concentrate on what you can eat and what tastes good because treatment side effects alter taste. Treatment also affects what you’re able to tolerate. Eating a balanced diet is the most important thing you can do for yourself after treatment. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, healthy carbohydrates like beans and grains, those are the foods to go for. One thing I would say — and I always say this — is to keep away from processed foods. Try to stick with whole foods. Real foods. This is the way I usually put it, ‘If it comes in a box, can, jar, or a container of any kind, it’s processed. Don’t buy it. If you read the ingredients and you can’t understand the first 5 words, don’t buy it.’ It’s better to eat simple, which means simple whole, real foods than to eat processed foods that seem appealing because of the way they’re marketed.”

Oncology Nurse Advisor asked Chef Peled for her advice for the woman who is exhausted from having gone through the ordeal of cancer treatment. The last thing she wants to do is shop and then cook. How does she get through that?