BY JIM HOWE
Eating a plant-based diet can be an easy and delicious way for cancer patients to get the varied nutrients they need, but many people only know how to prepare vegetables as a side dish or a simple salad, says a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Upstate Cancer Center.
“Nutrition is extremely important for cancer patients, but I’ve found in my practice that people aren’t really familiar with plant-based foods,” says Maria Erdman, who is also a certified specialist in oncology nutrition.
“It’s important to eat plant-based foods because they’ve not only been shown in multiple studies to reduce the risk of cancer in the first place, but they’re also a wonderful way for people going through treatment to get all the nutrients they need,” she says.
Often, cancer patients must avoid high-dose vitamin pills or other supplements because they can interfere with some treatments, but the lower-dose nutrients naturally occurring in foods don’t pose that problem, she notes.
Erdman recently helped a class of nutrition science and dietetics students at her alma mater, Syracuse University, to develop several plant-based recipes for cancer patients (see below) – including fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and whole grains.
The students kept in mind that some cancer patients might have mouth sores, for example, so they might offer a smoothie or puree and avoid possible irritants like lemon juice or black pepper. Likewise, since some patients might have lost their appetite, the students designed some “energy-dense” recipes to allow patients to get a lot of calories in a small amount of food.
As well as offering good nutrition, “eating plant-based foods also happens to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease,” Erdman says, and offer phytonutrients, such as lycopene and resveratrol, which help the body to work better and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
The recipes are all easily adapted, so patients can add or subtract as needed, including adding fish, meat, eggs and dairy products as well as changing the seasonings.
Several cancer-related cookbooks are available online for recipes and other information in the Family Resource Center at the Cancer Center.
White Bean and Roasted Vegetable Salad
(adapted from the kitchn.com)
1 each red and yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped into ¾-inch pieces (may substitute 3 sliced carrots and 3 cut Roma tomatoes)
½ large red onion, peeled and chopped into ¾-inch pieces
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil, divided
2 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Finely chopped fresh parsley, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Toss bell peppers, onion and garlic cloves with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast vegetables for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to caramelize.
Toss still-warm vegetables with cannellini beans, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
Allow salad to sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to marry. Discard garlic cloves. Stir in chopped parsley; taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving:
Protein: 23 grams
Carbohydrates: 67 grams
Dietary fiber: 16 grams
Total sugars: 7 grams
Total fat: 8 grams
Sodium: 165 milligrams
Based on the nutrition information, this recipe is an excellent source of protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, thiamine, choline and a good source of vitamin A. It contains very low amount of saturated fat and no cholesterol.
Chocolate Avocado Mousse
(adapted from creativesimplelife.com)
1 ripe avocado, peeled, chopped, pit removed
¼ cup honey (see note)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup water
Lemon juice, to taste
Raspberries, to garnish
Place avocado pieces into food processor or blender and puree.
Add honey, cocoa powder, vanilla extract and kosher salt and process until well combined. Scrape sides of food processor to ensure cocoa powder is incorporated. Gradually add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to achieve a creamy consistency.
Adjust seasoning with lemon juice to taste.
Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Garnish with raspberries when serving.
Makes 2 servings.
Note: In case of a compromised immune system, check with your dietitian or health care provider whether honey may be safely consumed; in many cases, it’s fine as long as the honey is pasteurized, not raw.
Nutrition information per serving:
Protein: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 55 grams
Dietary fiber: 14 grams
Total sugars: 37 grams
Total fat: 24 grams
Sodium: 15 milligrams
Based on the nutrition information, this recipe is an excellent source of fat, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat along with linoleic and alpha linolenic acid are considered “good fats.” It contains a very low amount of saturated fat and no cholesterol. This recipe is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B-6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, folate, niacin, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and potassium and a good source of riboflavin and iron. It has a very low amount of sodium.
This article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.