Cooking for chemo

It’s important for people on chemotherapy to eat well, so as to stay strong through both the illness and the treatment. And yet, because chemotherapy strips away all fast-growing cells, your mouth may be sore and your digestion upset; you may feel sick, and food loses its savour when your taste buds are blunted. So what can you do to stimulate your appetite?

Some doctors prefer their patients not to take medicinal herbs when they are on chemo, in case the herbs interfere with the uptake of the drugs, but there is still plenty you can do at the more foodlike end of herbal medicine. Teas made of slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, sweet violet or limeflowers can soothe and help to heal your digestive tract. Even if your sense of smell is not as acute as usual, aromatic herbs like peppermint, ginger, fennel and basil, to mention just a few, added to food or drunk as teas, can help to make food more appetising. The aromas directly stimulate the olfactory bulb in the brain, so even if you can’t smell them, they still work on your nervous system.

Some flavours, like apple and pineapple, have been found to mask the metallic taste that patients on chemo often complain of. And the hot herbs (in moderation), such as chilli and mustard, horseradish and ginger, will stimulate nerve endings and the secretion of digestive juices, so that you will break down and assimilate nutrients more effectively. Don’t be tempted to fill up with carbohydrates because you are afraid of losing weight; quality is much more important than quantity, especially when you are probably getting less exercise than usual. Home cooking becomes more important; be innovative and imaginative in what you cook.