rebecca orangeby Rebecca Katz, Commonweal Healing Kitchens Institute Director

Some people live to eat. But we all eat to live. Now, science is showing us that what we eat may affect how cancer behaves in our bodies.

Believe it or not, most doctors aren’t aware of this new emerging science, let alone how it is translated to the plate. They also have never experienced what most cancer patients have: transient taste changes and a total disconnection from the very food they need to help them survive and thrive through their cancer treatments.

To remedy this, the Healing Kitchens Institute, in partnership with Dr. Fredi Kronenberg, recently completed the second phase of Harnessing the Power of Food, a series of seminars at Stanford University Hospital that is part of Stanford’s Food and Health Initiative.

Our challenge was to convince a room full of scientists, oncologists, nurses, and registered dieticians of the important role food plays in helping people navigate through cancer treatment. While the science is clinically relevant, we knew that we needed to push past their minds and reach them through their taste buds.

It All Started with A Raisin

Each participant was given a raisin. They chewed it and experienced its delicious sweetness. Then they chewed a little herb, Gymnema sylvestre, which suppresses the sensation of sweet. And then they ate another raisin. Faces puckered. There was total confusion. We asked them, “How many people think the raisin tastes different now? How many think it tastes worse (bitter, metallic, weird)?” Eight-five “light bulbs” went off in the room. That’s when we announced, “Welcome to your cancer patient’s mouth during chemotherapy.”

We followed this jaw-dropping experience with information about how to fix repulsive tastes through culinary alchemy. We use FASS fixes (fat, acid, salt, sweet) to make food palatable to those who would otherwise push plates away. Shifting the way patients approach food and sustainable nourishment will require informed medical professionals who feel comfortable providing guidance.

Judging from the positive reception of these seminars, doctors are hungry for this knowledge. Post surveys revealed that 90% of the 150 physicians who have attended would apply what they learned in clinical practice. Clearly, the seeds have been planted in the Stanford medical cancer community. We are committed to nurturing these seeds and planting more as this project grows.

The Food and Health Initiative of the Stanford Food Summit is led by Fredi Kronenberg, PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine, Dept. of Anesthesia. Dr. Kronenberg is a physiologist with a particular focus on herbal and nutritional approaches to optimizing women’s health. She conducted research for more than 25 years at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Clinical Physiology, and was founding director of the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Columbia.