At a time of year when overindulgence has many of us proclaiming that we couldn’t possibly eat another bite, it’s sobering to remember that there are plenty of individuals in the community who, unfortunately, really do struggle to eat enough. 

A new support group at UTMB for cancer patients is helping some of them find foods that provide nutrition and comfort at a difficult time. The support group began in September and meets monthly.

The support group recently held a holiday meal featuring some of the foods that members have found most helpful in addressing some of the eating-related side effects of their cancer treatments, which can include a loss of appetite, mouth soreness, nausea or a lingering unpleasant taste. 

“It’s been encouraging and enlightening to find out what’s worked for other people in similar situations,” support group member Dolly McCarley said. “There are good things we can still eat.”

For the holiday lunch, support group members enjoyed turkey, cheese, spinach dip, and plenty of organic crackers, fruits and vegetables. “The veggie tray also had pickles and olives as they tend to cleanse the palate and activate taste buds. I find whole grain crackers also help to clean up taste buds,” McCarley noted.

For dessert, the group had trifles in both banana and chocolate varieties. “I picked banana trifle because it’s full of potassium and chocolate always tastes good,” McCarley said.

McCarley relies on several cookbooks, including “Betty Crocker’s Living with Cancer Cookbook” and “Eating Well Through Cancer” for suggestions, and also on the other members of the group. “I have a metallic taste in my mouth from the chemotherapy, and one of the members suggested lemon drops. Lemon is wonderful for removing that taste, and you can even get lemon drops that are sugar-free.”

One staple in McCarley’s diet as she continues chemotherapy has been “Magic Mineral Broth,” a nutrient-dense broth that can be sipped plain or used as the base for other soups or stews. She makes it with organic ingredients as much as possible. “I’m no dietitian, but I’ve been reading a lot about what all of us should be eating,” she said. “The cost of organics may seem prohibitive, but I think it makes a big difference.”

In addition to helping each other find foods that are palatable, the support group has some advice for friends and neighbors who would like to help out by preparing a meal. In addition to meals, preferably high in protein, an assortment of healthy, ready-to-eat snacks such as banana bread, meringue cookies or Popsicles can be a good way to add more calories when necessary.

“Eating Well Through Cancer” also suggests bringing paper plates and disposable utensils along when cooking for someone undergoing chemotherapy, so that they don’t expend their limited energy on cleaning up. The cookbook also points out sometimes even the smell of food cooking can upset the stomach during chemotherapy, so having a meal cooked elsewhere and delivered can stimulate the appetite.

For more information on the UTMB colorectal and GI cancer support group, contact Robert Webster at captrwebster@aol.com.

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