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Eating with Chemo - any suggestions?

Nothing seems to taste very good these days, with the exception of some sweet stuff. I just ate a couple of pieces of pickled herring in wine sauce and that wasn't bad. But we ate at our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant last night and the entire meal seemed bland to me. This is somewhat disheartening, since cooking and eating have always been really important to me.

Also, there are these restrictions to deal with, due to the possibility of food-borne illness in this time when my immunity is compromised: I can't eat raw fruits or veggies, no sushi, gotta have "fully cooked," which I suppose means "well-done" meats. So what the heck am I gonna eat in Paris at the end of this month, considering that "medium" in France pretty much equates to "raw" in the US? Well, I suppose I could eat duck confit and stews for 5 days - that's not too much of a burden... Don't know about French cheeses, but I'm guessing they'll be on my non-non list, too.

I know it's temporary, but I could sure use some suggestions from any fellow 'hounds who've been there and done that. What flavors really appealed to you and stimulated your appetite? I mean, I don't mind losing some weight, but a person's gotta eat!


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  1. A friend of mine who underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer a couple of years ago said that kimchee, the korean pickled cabbage, was one of the few things that would whet her appetite and kept her from getting sick while she ate. I don't know how you feel about it, but there's a suggestion.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gyp7318

      That's a fine idea. Kimchee is full of fresh ginger - which is one of the best anti-nausea remedies. Tofu, rice, kimchee...yum!

    2. Hi Deenso,

      First off , good luck with your chemo. I hope and pray everything goes well. My husband just made his Five Year anniversary in September and we celebrated with a lavish holiday in San Diego with our little chowpup. During his 6 months of chemo, we weren't allowed to travel very extensively which was a bit of a bummer, but we ate our way around the world here in NYC. My husband found that red meat in general took on a very metallic taste and silver cutlery left a yucky taste in his mouth (we used a lot of plastic). He also developed a terrible aversion to ice cubes, as he used to keep them in his mouth during one of the infusions to prevent mouth sores. That said, he pretty much enjoyed everything as usual during his treatment, and I might add did not lose a pound. I really enjoyed cooking for him :) On the days right after, we did a lot of soupy, braised stuff but with bold seasonings (chicken adobo soup with lots of cilantro and lime, Vietnamese pho, escarole and white beans with baby meatballs and great olive oil etc.) We made sure all our fruits and veggies were very well washed and stayed away from raw fish. We tried to ensure that his meals were really extra balanced- greens
      (always cooked, sauteed with lots of garlic and oil) beans, fish, lean meat, whole grains, low fat dairy and lots of water, fresh juices and teas. Of course I baked a ton of treats for him too. We ate out all the time, but avoided street foods, fairs (which we normally love) and any restaurants that were a bit "questionable" in terms of cleanliness (trust me, I know that even the four stars have issues) We even enjoyed a "cheer-up" meal at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago during that rough time(and we even made an exception to our no street food rule to enjoy the Taste of Chicago although we were a bit prudent)! I'd like to return to fully enjoy it now that all is well.

      Best of Luck and Blessed Holidays,

      1. Hang in there Deenso! I don't have any personal experience with chemo, but I took care of my mom while she went through a few rounds. The best thing you can do for your appetite is variety -- try to get something different for every meal. Chemo and nausea seem to go hand in hand, unfortunately, so we got a lot of broth-based, hearty-but-soothing soups, like pho or Korean sullungtang. I'm not a doctor myself, but I didn't think that a lot of the eating restrictions my mom's doctors imposed were necessary -- it's one thing to be extra careful washing and preparing fruits and veggies, but it's another thing to eliminate them altogether, especially when you already have a poor appetite and need all the nutrition you can get! Hope you feel better soon.

        1. You should discuss the food restrictions with your Dr. or chemo nurse. You should not eat raw veggies, however, I don;t think that eating medium rare meat is a problem though I may be wrong. French cheeses should be ok so long as they are not raw milk- you will need to ask .

          1. Hope you have an easy time with chemo. During my treatment, I found that my usual comfort foods were the ones I liked best - really ordinary things like cottage cheese and jello, or scrambled eggs, or french toast. Greek food was particularly appealing, maybe because of the sharp lemon and dill flavors. I also found that eating small snacks every few hours made me feel better than a three meal a day schedule. Your options in Paris should be pretty broad. Roast chicken, stews, soups, fish - pretty much the same options as you'd have here. Footnote: I did a celebratory trip to Paris (my first!) after I'd finished chemo - as something to look forward to! Best wishes with your treatment, Deenso.

            1. I don't know that there is a single, one-size-fits-all answer. Both my mother and my husband went through chemo simultaneously. While one wanted bland food (mashed potatoes & mashed carrots, vanilla ice cream) the other wanted pho w/ extra chiles. The only constants were their almost-daily dietary changes and both hated the metalic taste of meat that another poster mentioned. Shrimp, in many guises, was popular but neither wanted their usual ration of wine.

              Good Luck, Deenso. The new anti-nausea medications are magic.

              1. Thanks, you guys! Your answers are giving me lots of hope.

                As to comfort food? I made one of my childhood favorites for lunch today - a tuna noodle casserole. Took one mouthful and threw it away. A piece of microwaved frozen cherry pie took on a whole new meaning though. And you're right, CynD, about the scrambled eggs. That was my first solid meal after my first treatment and I couldn't believe how good they tasted!

                I have a feeling, though, that I'll be searching for foods with a lot of extra heat in them - something I've never really liked before. Plain old salt and pepper don't seem to do it for me like they used to. And garlic's gotten a little nasty, too. Guess I'll try getting a bit more daring with chiles and the pepper sauces.

                Anyway, thanks for your responses and your good wishes.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Deenso

                  My mom has done well with non-spicy chinese, but it sounds like you've become less sensitive to spice, is that right? Hit up the Schezuan plates then! Plus, she got a prescription mouthwash that helped with some of the pains, but not the taste changes or sensitivity. Good luck. I just found out today that my formerly terminal uncle (given four months in april) was been declared cancer free and is being taken off chemo, my mom has been going through chemo at the same time and has handled it very well(never terminal though) and my dad is about 8 years past discovery of melanoma. I have been blessed, hope that this encourages you and pray that you experience the same hope and joy.

                2. Sorry to hear you are going through that. I have not had to go through chemo but all spring and well into summer I was in major pain and quite nauseated with it and the pain medication. I had a lot of Phenergan for the nausea but still had little to no appetite. It was 2 herniated discs pressing on my spinal column and causing really bad sciatica. What appealed to me most were carbs and I usually don't indulge in many simple carbs. Kettle Potato Chips were a biggie for me in all of the different flavors. The Spicy Thai really appealed oh and Triscuits, I ate a lot of them.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Candy

                    Sorry to hear you were in such pain and I sure hope that's over for you!

                    Fortunately, I haven't had too much in the way of really severe nausea (just the first day after treatment), but lack of interest in general and, in particular, the taste change is really throwing me for a loop - the whole metallic thing. But, like you, carbs seem to be doing it for me, too. I've been living on toast and English muffins with jams and jellies, as well as potatoes and pastas.

                    1. re: Deenso

                      Good luck with your chemo!! I was fortunate and didn't have to go through it - but I have noticed that since the radiation the surgeries, and the medications I'm taking I am craving two things SPICY food and chocolate. I don't know the reason why - but have talked to a number of breast cancer survivors and the spicy craving is very common.

                      Nutrition is really important for the healing process. You'll want to look for nutritionally dense foods - sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes, whole grain products, braises served on polenta, hearty soups. Eggs are great - high in protein and easy on the digestive system.

                      1. re: Deenso

                        It was kind of amazing. When finally diagnosed and I told the neurosurgeon I did not have timne to fool around, I had a flat and flight booked for London mid-Oct. and I wanted to be able to go and get around in comfort so lets do the surgery for goodness sake. The surgery had me in and out of the hospital in 4 hours and back on CH that afternoon. No stitches, superglue to hold me back together and I was out of the brace and driving in 2 weeks. I hope your recovery can go as quickly. London was glorious and sunny and warm, we packed all of the wrong things, luckily the flat had a washer/dryer so we could recycle lighter weight clothing instead of the sweaters and raincoats we took with us.

                        I have pretty much gone off of simple carbs now, I don't crave them the way I did then. I can make a bag of chips last a month. While I was in bad shape I found that really rich dark chocolate could make me feel better while waiting for pain meds to kick in. It gets the feel good endorphins working. I did not even need much. I could get by with a couple of squares a day of 70%-85%. Give it a try. It gave me a chance to investigate some single origin dark chocolate and do some comparisons. Indulge!

                        Back and sciatica pain is gone. I'm back in Yoga classes, have cut back on the carbs but I have to taste as I bake so I have to look at some first stage Atkins/S. Beach after the holidays.

                        I hope you recovery can be as swift and you have a great time in Paris. Wish I was going.

                        Maybe it is the general blandness of the simple carbs that makes them more appealing.

                    2. Grilled pineapple and corn fritters might be good. You could dip and sauce to the hilt.

                      1. I've been dealing with screwed up digestive system lately and the doctor said eat what is easily digestable. Whatever that means. Personally, I can tell dairy is a no - no. I found myself craving toasted pita bread chips with hummus bean dip and eggplant babaganouj dip - lemony/garlic. It agrees with my stomach although you would not think so. Both were very easy to whip up in the Cuisinart. Also made a big pot of chicken soup with veg. & noodles - very soothing. You should ask yourself what it is you REALLY want to eat more than anything else - there may be some deep messages there of what your body and spirit need to soothe and heal you.
                        God bless you and heal you and may it be soon!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: niki rothman

                          I totally forgot about hummous. One of my Armenian friends brought me a container of home made hummous with really good, authentic pita bread. That got me through post-surgery nausea and the first chemo treatment - and I always give her hummous credit for helping me get well!

                        2. I know it's different for everyone, but when my dad had chemo I made a butternut squash (or sweet potato)-apple-carrot soup that he loved. I sauteed an onion, then added the squash, apple, and carrots and cooked for a few minutes, and then added chicken broth. You could also add garlic, ginger, sage, curry etc, but he liked it a little plainer. I cooked it til the veggies were tender, then pureed it all with an immersion blender. Adjust with salt and pepper. I added heavy cream to it for him, but you could leave it as is or stir in some yogurt or sour cream too.

                          Baked potato soup with bacon was another hit, but I liked the former because it had more nutrients overall. Good luck Deenso! :)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                            Your soups sound delicious - and soup, in general, is a wonderful idea. It's easy to digest, goes down easy, and you can make it easily and it's nutritious. I have a Jamaican friend who makes a chicken soup where the second main ingredient is a yellow winter squash, and onions. Very soothing. Chicken meat and thick squash soup. Usually we think of chix soup as a thin broth but it's a great vehicle for making a thicker soup and those yellow veg are so nutritious.

                          2. I feel for you Deenso. I'm also going through chemo -- for breast cancer right now and estimate that I have lost 40-60% of my ability to taste. I guess reactions are individual, but I find I need strong, strong flavors -sweet, salty, spicy. That metallic taste is truly awful so it overwhelms anything bland. I find a sweet, hot sauce called Zing helps perk up the taste of stuff like chicken. My docs told me it was OK to eat raw vegies at home as long as I washed them very, very well.

                            I also have cravings for weird foods (inc. fast food which is quite unusual for me) but then nothing tastes right. Food has always been such a comfort so it's hard to cope with this loss in addition to the crappy side effects. Well, 6 more weeks to go... I plan to celebrate with lots of salads.

                            I wish you and all chemo comrades all the best.

                            1. Good luck, and be careful in France, especially with cheeses (make sure you don't eat any young, unpastuerized ones). You can fearlessly eat all braises, fish dishes, roast chickens, almost everything. Just keep your personal censor intact: If you wouldn't eat it here in the U.S., don't eat it there. Have a good trip, and be well.

                              1. try a black and white ice cream soda--I hope you will feel better soon-croissants could be very good as well

                                1. This might get nicked...but have you thought about an appetite enhancer, like medical pot? I've seen it work for some people and believe me they didn't want to use it but worked while they were on chemo. Best of luck...

                                  1. Deenso, I hope you are doing ok. When on very minor chemo for arthritis, I discovered Indian dhal. I got my hands on every dhal recipe I could, and the winner was a spinach dhal with coconut and split green peas from Kerala from Maya Kaimal's first cookbook, Curried Favors. It was green, you could cook it to whatever texture you could tolerate (sometimes I had it soupy, sometimes I let it just boil into something mushy), and it had garlic, toasted mustard and cumin seeds, curry leaves. Absorbed the chemo metallic taste and made me feel almost normal. Lots of protein, a touch of sweetness, a touch of saltiness. This post is probably of no help at all in France (go for the confit, baby!) but if you're sick of duck when you return I suggest you try dhal. Good luck--hang in there.

                                    1. I completed my chemo in July....I swear I thought I would never eat again...NEVER...spent the last 4 weeks of treatment barfing baby food- towards the end absolutely NOTHING tasted right (Cisplatin & Taxol combo was the culprit)the smells of food were the worst- The only thing that really helped (I hated the compazine & zofran) was peppermint...I would drink peppermint tea and then be able to hold down a little food- or get a steamy hot, wet washcloth and add a few drops of peppermint oil- apply to the back of your neck or chest and inhale...it really takes the nausea away for a while- 4 months & 40lbs later I'm eating just about everything- I favor sweets much more than ever before (common side effect I'm told)- hang in there...get rest...and hold on- about two weeks after your last round you should start to feel better...GOOD LUCK

                                      1. Folic acid (one of the B vitamins) may help. My father was receiving chemo for colon cancer and an oncologist recommended that he let dissolve a folic acid tablet in his mouth during the chemo infusion. Folic acid does not have that classic B vitamin taste. The folic acid helps to decrease the irritation of the digestive tract (TONGUE included!)that is sometimes caused by chemo agents.

                                        1. During my chemo I always had this background taste in my mouth. I called it "white blood cell." Sweet stuff helped distract my taste buds, I remember eating tons of homemade rice pudding then. Ambrosia from the supermarket salad bar too.

                                          The dish I remember most fondly from chemo days (and there's only one!) was a chicken salad made by the woman who lived across the street from me. She roasted a chicken, seasoned with plenty of salt & pepper, and shredded it. The "glue" was mayo, cider vinegar, water chestnuts, pecans, and fresh tarragon. I think she overdid the salt, pepper, and tarragon on purpose to make up for my dulled sense of taste. I'm not sure if it was really the flavors, or the thought behind the giving, but I loved that stuff.

                                          good luck Deenso!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: The Engineer

                                            Whole Foods sometimes has a tarragon chicken salad that sounds pretty similar (minus the water chestnuts and pecans). It's really good!

                                          2. Thanks, Engineer! I find myself in Paris now, wondering where the flavor has gone. We celebrated my 60th birthday at Le Train Bleu, where I tasted (against doctor's orders) my husband's steak tartare - it was heavily spiced and wonderful. My own roasted capon, while I'm sure it was lovely, was bland in comparison, except for a side dish of roasted and slightly mashed chestnuts.

                                            Lunch today, at Yves Cambdebord's Le Comptoir was another mixed bag. The flavor of a shared bowl of peppery green lentil soup with tiny bits of foie gras in it was invigorating, stimulating, encouraging. But I made a less wise choice in my main course, thinking of brandade as a kind of comfort food. It was more like baby food. Nothing wrong with it - my husband said it was excellent - but just not there for me.

                                            A late night snack of pizza and pasta tonight was a little more successful. They used a very spicy oil on the pizza that woke the taste buds up nicely. In general, though, I feel like I might just as well have stayed home. Except for the art. And the Seine. And the scene.

                                            I wouldn't ordinarily look for anything except French food in Paris, but I believe I'll be on a hunt for Korean or Indian food tomorrow. We're staying in the 6th. Any recommendations?


                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Deenso

                                              I think you may have trouble finding good Indian or Korean in Paris, but perhaps some Couscous or Tagines might be flavorful for you, even now, especially if you can have a good helping of harissa sauce.

                                              And stop violating your doctor's orders, if you can manage it. This, too, shall pass. Get through this to the other side, and you'll be able to enjoy salad, steak tartare, and sashimi to your heart's content, God willing.

                                              1. re: Deenso

                                                I've been to exactly one Indian restaurant in Paris, Annapurna at 32 rue de Berri. The number for reservations is 01 45 63 91 62. I can't remember what I ate exactly. Maybe lamb vindaloo, and chances are good my wife had the chicken tikka masala. I remember liking it very much, that it was very very flavorful. The room has subdued lighting, votives on the tables, rich drapery covering the walls... very romantic. I'm not good at Arrondissements, I think we're talking 8th here. It was walking distance from my hotel, the Georges V. Actually it was the concierge who hipped us to it. Hope that helps.

                                                By the way on the same trip my wife and I also ate at Le Train Bleau. Its the Engineer thing. Brava to you for throwing caution to the wind and trying the tartare! But now that you've alarmed us all, STOP THAT! :)

                                                And happy birthday!

                                                1. re: Deenso

                                                  My daughter lived across the street from a Korean bbq in the 17th, which she said was very good. It's on rue des Moines, right next to le Square des Batignolles. For a little treat that might wake up your tastebuds, find the honey lady at the marche on Blvd. Raspail, and get the honey-eucalyptus drops. They were so aromatic, and wonderful, especially soothing if you have a sore throat.

                                                  1. re: Deenso

                                                    I don't have any specific recs, but Paris should have some good Vietnamese I think. A nice Pho with some hot sauce...

                                                  2. Something that happened to me was that I developed an association with the chemo sessions and some of the foods I ate, particularly while at the cancer center. It's been over 2 years, and I still can't drink ginger ale, and the thought of a standard grilled cheese (american slices on white bread, from the hospital kitchen) still makes me a little nauseous - although I've gotten over most everything else. Of course, it hasn't bothered my eating melted gruyere on anything... hmmm, maybe I've always been nauseated by american slices on white bread...

                                                    Hey - nothing wrong with a nice choucroute or a cassoulet.

                                                    Best of luck.

                                                    1. I am 8 years post treatment myself. When I was in treatment, I couldn't taste sweet at all, and everything else was really flat, dull tasting. When I was able to eat, I lived on eggs, roast chicken and milk (so much so that I don't eat chicken or milk any more!). I also ate a lot of Indian (the full flavor and heat were able to get through the dulled taste buds) and Japanese (miso soup and veggie sushi with extra wasabi). Tomato sauces and lemon flavors were also appealing and the acid helped.

                                                      Keep your chin up - things will taste better than ever when this is all behind you!

                                                      1. You guys are all so great! Thanks for all your words of support. I know it's only temporary and will eventually have a terrific outcome, but, damn, this is Paris! My husband has promised me that, if I can't taste anything on this trip, he'll bring me back in the fall, when I should be back to normal (whatever that is!).

                                                        Applehome, I'm already sick of gingerale, and I haven't even been in a hospital! Will probably never drink it again. But I have been enjoying scrambled eggs. Hope that doesn't change.

                                                        And, yes, Pan, you're right, of course. I'll stop taking risks. Silly for me to be foolish about something so serious.

                                                        Thanks again, everyone!

                                                        1. I spent 11 months on chemo. I wrote a book on the subject and posted about half of it on the Web for free. The site is called: Cooking for Chemo.com. Although there are as many different reactions to the many kinds of chemo as there are people, this material covers the most general side effects in the most generalized way!

                                                          Cooking for Chemo is really quite counter-intuitive. Enjoy the website, pass it on to others, and good darn luck with the chemo. Contrary to popular belief, food is not medicine and chemo can, really can, do the job. Trust your healthcare providers!

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Andrew Rebori

                                                            My mom just received her first round of chemo for mantle cel lymphoma...wow, what an awesome trove of suggestions. Except for tartar, that is...

                                                            Thanks, all...