Food to benefit cancer patients

Food can be a real comforter when you are ill. Indeed, best-selling author and chef Penny Ericson is convinced that sharing food in the company of others is at the very core of our existence. In writing Around the Kitchen Table, for the Chemo Cookery Club, Penny says she has produced a sampler of possibil-ities, which she hopes will help cancer patients to minimise the effects of chemo treatment. The book does not offer specific dietary advice, it’s a collec-tion of ideas for people and their carers, whose health and treatments have affec-ted the daily pleasures of food. It offers anyone who experiences the shock of cancer diagnosis a way of making ordinary food special with tempting flavours and simple-to-follow recipes.

Although many of the foods have cancer-fighting properties such as antioxidants, the information within the book is intended as general guidance. It is not for clinical research or medical advice. Penny hopes the featured recipes will help make cancer patients feel good because well-cooked fresh food nicely served can bring joy, even when someone is really ill.

The publication is available free in Maggie’s Cancer Centres across the UK. The book’s name is a reference to one of the core elements of the service provided by Maggie’s Centres, located in NHS cancer hospital grounds, where people with cancer, their friends and their carers can meet, get help and share the experiences of others.

People who have cancer often feel that everything is out of control. However, as Penny points out, whilst enduring those gruelling sessions of chemotherapy, food is one thing that can still be managed. This book suggests ways cancer patients can help themselves by using food to keep the body strong enough to cope with the treatments. It contains 50 recipes that range from easy snacks to nourishing meals, drinks and even some cocktails. While some are designed specifically to help with some of the symptoms of treatment, from dry mouth to nausea and changes in taste caused by it, this isn’t a book containing recipes that promise a cure. It’s a book highlighting foods that can bring comfort and strengthen the body.

Avocados are one of the many fruits Penny recommends. One avocado contains a quarter of the recommended daily amount of potassium for an adult and provides a rich source of a number of nutrients that can act as antioxid-ants. Also, avocados are easy to eat, guacamole being a perfect light snack that can be served on thin crisp slices of toast, or as a dip with celery sticks.

Popular TV chefs The Hairy Bikers create a very tasty guacamole inspired by their travels to South America by pounding together chillies, fresh coriander leaves, tomatoes, onion and salt to a fine paste before mashing in ripe avocado, along with lime juice and a little water to make a looser mixture. Four mild chillies is usually enough to give the mix a bite, but if you are preparing your own food, you can be guided by your taste buds, adding a little more of this or that as you feel fit. The taste of a hot chilli is often quite welcome when under medication.

Beetroot and other purple foods, such as red cabbage and aubergines, contain anthocyanins which have been shown in laboratory studies to kill cancer cells and fight blood-related cancers. Penny’s recipe for beetroot risotto, great eaten on its own or as an accompaniment with fish and shellfish, is simply busting with nutrients, but the main reason for serving this dish is because it is the perfect comfort food and tastes superb as, like guacamole, it slips down easily.

Red fruits such as plums, cherries, blackberries, strawberries and cranber-ries fall into the same category as beetroot and are easy to eat, particularly when mixed into a smoothie. She advi-ses mashing these fruits down and turn-ing them into ice cubes that can be used one by one as needed to cheer up a dish.

Then there are the cruciferous vegetables that contain glucosinolates that break down into isothiocyanates and indoles when digested. In laborat-ory tests they have been seen to have beneficial effects on cancer prevention.

The medical potential of spices that have been used for centuries — such as turmeric — are obviously included in Penny’s recipes. She uses them to delight the taste buds which is good news for curry fans.

The list of fresh seasonal foods that can at least soothe cancer patients is endless, but Penny has added some that are known to stimulate the appetite and soothe the sore mouth and throat. If the patient is able to consume alcohol, Penny’s gin and tonic ice lollies add a fun factor to the diet. The Marie Curie kitchens consider the lollies a real morale booster, and when you are not feeling well, that’s what it is all about.