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The breast cancer cookbook: regaining control by getting in the kitchen

October 26th 2015 / Anna Hunter

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Behavioural risk factors associated with diet and lifestyle are thought to influence up to 30% of cancers. A new book proposes cooking as a means of coping and prevention, and it certainly provided us with some food for thought…

As the World Health Organisation reported this week that processed meats do in fact cause cancer, the link between diet and disease cannot be either denied or ignored. Despite the panic inducing headlines, however, the cancer-cuisine connection needn’t invoke food fear or total deprivation. As a newly published cookbook proves, the key to eating for optimum health, whether you’re keen to steer clear of disease, undergoing treatment or in recovery, lies in those oft touted phrases of balance and moderation, and less commonly advocated, enjoyment.

Enjoying chemotherapy seems like quite the oxymoron I know, but do bear with me, as The Breast Cancer Cookbook aims to empower sufferers and actually, pretty much anyone, to take an active role in boosting their health and wellbeing. Devised by consultant breast cancer specialist Professor Mohammed Keshtgar, each and every recipe in the 100 strong collection draws on proven scientific evidence of the effect of diet and lifestyle on breast cancer in particular, along with experiences and requests from his many patients over the years, who repeatedly tell him that they feel a bit abandoned post-treatment especially, and are thirsty for information outside the confines of the clinic.

For The Breast Cancer Cookbook, Dr Keshtgar teamed up with celebrated cancer biologist Dr Miriam Dwek, nutritionist Dr Claire Robertson and home economist Emily Jonzen to offer patients and those at risk a way to not only sort the scare stories from the substance in terms of what to eat and what to avoid, but also a means to savour each meal and take pleasure in food as much as possible, even if you’re enduring a sore mouth, bout of nausea or fatigue as a consequence of chemotherapy. Dr Keshtgar and his team of experts have taken almost everything associated with breast cancer and its treatment into account, from weight gain due to steroids to tastebud debilitation, along with practicality regarding sourcing ingredients and following recipes, and the proof’s in the pudding in that three prestigious hospitals have so far taken on recipes from the book to provide patients and staff alike with nutrient rich meals.

So what’s cooking? Firstly, it’s interesting to note that “epidemiological evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of breast cancer.” That’s minus the wine, mind, but even there Dr Keshtgar is a realist, and emphasises that risks associated with alcohol are dose related (smaller dosage I’m afraid). Given the abundance of frankly delicious elements associated with the Mediterranean diet, it’s refreshing to hear from the top that we needn’t subside on kale and broth alone, although these two do have their uses (namely folate in dark green leafy veg to strengthen DNA, and easy to digest nutrient hits in the case of broth). Also comforting is Dr Keshtgar’s no nonsense debunking of food/ cancer falsehoods:

“There is no evidence to suggest that the consumption of milk or dairy products increases breast cancer risk; the same holds true for meat products. Consuming lean meat in moderation as part of a balanced diet is deemed perfectly safe.”

Dr Keshtgar does, however, concur with the WHO’s conclusion on the processed meat front, advising us to be cautious due to the carcinogenic potential of preservatives used in production, not to mention the risks associated with added salt and high saturated fat content. On the plus side, a small amount of high quality meat, trimmed of fat, may well make you feel better while undergoing treatment, as iron load could help to reduce lethargy (just don’t go overcooking it- avoid those carcinogens wherever possible).

Despite the advice as to what to limit, Dr Keshtgar is keen to clarify that ‘no single food is known to cause cancer to develop or to recur’. There’s a world of tasty grub awaiting you (the cookbook takes inspiration from a diverse array of cultures and cuisines), and said array of options includes pizza, chocolate mousse and pancakes, to name but a few masterfully conceived recipes. If the thought of even a slice of pizza makes you feel feverish, there are well-thought out options to soothe your stomach, nourish your body but not aggravate sickness. From warming soups that help to stave off infection to energising smoothies, considered recipes for when you don’t feel up to food keep both satiety and spirits up, and Dr Keshtgar and his team ensure that even if you can only manage a few morsels, you’ll be reaping the maximum nutritional benefit (eggs are powerhouses for recovery by the way, as is pineapple). From alleviating sore gums with sorbet to making water a LOT more interesting, The Breast Cancer Cookbook is surprisingly uplifting, not to mention insightful (‘a tomato a day keeps inflammation at bay’ and grapefruit ‘can interfere with certain drugs used to treat breast cancer’).

Whether eating with family or just trying to get something down, the cookbook provides ideas for almost every incidence, and bears in mind potential future health concerns too, with recipes rich in calcium and vitamin D to promote healthy bones, as ‘after breast cancer, the risk of osteoporosis is increased’. From whether to eat soya (thumbs up) to getting the most goodness possible out of your daily bread, The Breast Cancer Cookbook could well become a valuable means of support, not to mention sustenance. Given that it’s based on a wealth of peer-approved world literature, it’s certainly worth a shot, even just if you rustle up those Earl Grey poached pears with warm chocolate sauce…

The Breast Cancer Cookbook by Professor Mohammed Keshtgar (Quadrille, £20). Photography by Jan Baldwin

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