A recipe book, endorsed by cancer doctors and dieticians, offers a healthy and more palatable-looking alternative to the “blitzed in a blender” mush patients often have to contend with when illness makes eating difficult.

More importantly, Eating well with swallowing difficulties in cancer is designed to try and halt weight loss in cancer patients, as losing weight can reduce ability to tolerate chemotherapy, making its side-effects more toxic.

In fact, scientific studies have shown that those who lose more than 10% of their pre-illness weight “die much faster than patients who maintain their weight”, according to Aoife Ryan, dietician and lecturer in nutritional science at UCC.

Dr Ryan said the book, a follow-on from the award-winning Good Nutrition for Cancer Recovery cookbook, is evidence-based at a time when the market is flooded with “fad diet books” offering misleading nutritional advice to cancer patients.

“You have books advising cancer patients to avoid dairy and to avoid meat, and you have the craze of juicing,” she said. “In fact, it’s very important for cancer patients to have both dairy and meat in their diet. They need food high in calories and lots of good quality proteins. Some cancers of the head and neck are very aggressive and it is not the time to be losing weight.”

The book, launched by UCC and Breakthrough Cancer Research, is the result of collaboration between cancer specialists, dieticians, and chefs based in UCC and CIT.

“We wanted to offer an alternative to blitzing everything in a blender and eating brown food all day,” Dr Ryan said.

Recipe for eating well with cancer

Derek Power, a consultant medical oncologist based at the Mercy University Hospital, said doctors have no medications to offer to patients that could safely stimulate appetite or cause weight gain.

“It is our hope that this cookbook will assist cancer patients in the challenging task of meeting their nutritional requirements as they battle cancer,” said Dr Power.

He said a lot of patients had to contend with sarcopenia or severe muscle wasting and that “patients who develop this do worse, so anything we can do nutritionally to prevent that happening is good”.

Dr Ryan said she had been involved in a study examining malnutrition in 822 Irish cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and 40% had severe muscle wasting while 47% had very poor quality muscle, associated with reduced survival and higher risk of mortality.

The cookbook, endorsed by both the Irish Nutritional and Dietetic Institute and the Irish Society for Medical Oncologists, is available free of charge to cancer patients through their hospitals, and an e-book is also available from www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie.

Meanwhile, Insomnia coffee chain chief Bobby Kerr, who lost four stone during treatment for head and neck cancer, said the book would be a great resource to those struggling “to find and swallow food with enough nutritional value to enable continued treatment”.

Journalist and author Emily Hourican, who has also been treated for head and neck cancer, said one of the “many horrors I experienced during my cancer treatment was trying to eat with no appetite”. She said the cookbook “will really help patients in this area”.

Difficulties chewing and swallowing affect many patients suffering from cancer of the mouth, throat, neck, oesophagus, and stomach.


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