Have you ever experienced that rare moment when you’ve been around long enough to see signs of system-wide transformation occur before your very eyes? Dear reader, such has been the case with the role of food and medicine in the span of my professional career, during which I’ve devoted myself and my talents towards this very end—bringing science to the table, and food to the treatment plan.
The moment that filled my heart!
My foundation, Healing Kitchens, works with different hospitals and cancer centers to provide culinary content for their patients. We recently accepted an invitation to pay a call at Stanford Health Care. We’ve done some interesting work at Stanford in the past, including online, live and printed material for neuroendocrine cancer patients and for their survivorship program and website. We had modified my Cancer-Fighting Kitchen approach with specific protocols for neuroendocrine and carcinoid syndrome—two very specialized forms of cancer—and word got out. A colorectal surgeon at Stanford putting together a trial for pre-op prep for her patients suggested we meet and talk about the role food can play in patient preparedness and recovery.
The surgeon and her team were curious: what would happen if we have people shift their eating to an immune-boosting diet full of anti-inflammatory foods and also include exercise? Would it help people recover faster and with less chance of complications?
This was MUSIC to my ears! The notion of helping patients BEFORE they go into surgery with food!!!! We introduced her to my famous healing, nourishing Magic Mineral Broth. Oh my gosh, she said, is this a clear broth? I can give this to all my patients!!! Long story short, we’re working on a package to go into this critical trial.
The realization that stunned me: She was the perfect candidate for one of the several outstanding nutrition training programs or conferences which have led the way in the previous decade to connecting science and medicine with food. She’s young, interested, and curious, but she’s never been to any of these programs. AND YET, she has a clear vision that food is medicine. She says, this is the truth. This is not bs. Real food makes a real difference. And she is setting out to prove it!
The field of medicine transforming, right before my very eyes!
Thinking back to my first book on food and cancer
I’m sitting across the table listening to this young surgeon, thinking back to my first book One Bite at a Time, which I was writing in 2002 and 2003. The book came out in 2004 when I began teaching with the Food As Medicine professional training program (FAM) and acting as their Executive Chef. Originally offered as an elective at Georgetown University Medical School, FAM went public at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2001, with Susan Lord, MD as the Course Director and Kathie Swift, MS, RDN, LDN as Education Director.
Women have always played a central role in food and healing, nurturing, cooking, and wisdom, and certainly in my education and work. I trained as a chef with Anne Marie Colbin at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and was strongly influenced early on by the authors Adele Davis and Francis Moore Lappe, who brought whole foods back into the foreground of cooking and nutrition. At the time I finished my training when I got interested in exploring the genre of writing about cooking for people with cancer...there wasn’t one. There wasn’t a place to put the book in the bookstore. There wasn’t a nutrition section.
The concept of food as medicine didn’t really exist. People with cancer were still being ordered by their oncologists not to eat any color.
15 years later, I’m sitting across from a Stanford doctor talking about food as medicine as if it were a given, an everyday part of the vernacular. The movement has started to arrive.
We’re starting to crack the code.
I’ve always said this movement has been patient-driven.
In the same visit to Stanford, we talked to their head of survivorship. She’s an oncologist. She said that food is what patients are the most interested in. They have to eat 3 meals a day, and they feel that food is something they can control. The Stanford survivorship program is teaching patients how they can have that control and support BEFORE they finish their treatments. A major shift for surviving and thriving.
The young surgeon said, so many of my patients want to be able to do something for themselves. Her patients are very frail. Frailty is measured in a lot of different ways. You can be 25 and very frail. You can be obese and be very frail. How do you metabolize food? How is it showing up in your body? What are you going into surgery with? This doctor wants to see her patients being nourished before they go in as well as rebuilding strength post-op.
At Healing Kitchens Institute we’ve created and taught culinary medicine programs with doctors, teaching them how to cook for themselves and their families. There’s a willingness, indeed an eagerness to learn. For the moment, in general, it’s still up to us to advocate, but it’s not like Sisyphus, pushing the rock up the hill and finding it rolling back down again. There is more awareness than there ever has been. Food as medicine is starting to flower on the medical side.
WHAT A THRILL!!!!
Food as medicine recipes
These are recipes I was developing for people with cancer in 2001, and are still favorites among my readers with cancer or not! The gorgeous colors, bright flavors, and rich textures make them vibrant standouts for any season of the year and of life.
If you’re a coleslaw fan or have a jones for a crunchy salad, this colorful, perennial favorite recipe is for you. Red cabbage is a nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetable. Jicama is loaded with nutrients, including iron. Together they make a colorful pair. And the sweet and sour Asian dressing takes it over the top for flavor!
There is a school of thought—and increasing scientific evidence—that the more vibrant the color, the more nutrition there is to be found in the food. I set out to create the most colorful salad I could, using purple beets, orange carrots, and fresh mint. If I’d had a vegetable crisper instead of a box of crayons as a kid, this salad would have been the result. You can substitute lemon or lime juice for the orange juice.
For ages, buying rice in America was like walking into an ice cream store and finding they had only two flavors. The vanilla of the rice world is bleached white rice, which has had its nutrients strip-mined away. Its chocolate counterpart is taste-less short-grain brown rice, which gave rise to the phrase “hippie gruel.” Fortunately, many different types of rice are now available. Basmati, jasmine, sushi rice . . . Forbidden Rice (Purple Rice), is a terrific choice for rice salads because of its nutty taste and firm texture.
This salad was inspired by those gorgeous, colorful Bollywood flicks that offer a feast of singing, dancing, and romance. I love Indian food, as it was my first real introduction to all things curry. Only much later did I learn that turmeric, a typical curry spice that gives curries a yellow tint, has tremendous antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties. And to think, I loved it just for its taste! Here, I was hankering for a swirl of flavors with an Indian feel. The chicken makes a great starting point because it’s full of protein and amenable to all sorts of accessorizing. In this case, the apple and raisins play delightfully off the curry spices.