Food for Healing… (Part Two)
Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Part Two: The Nutrition
Since we began supplying organic produce to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Goodyear, everything that Bob had described in his visits and meetings there painted the picture of a world-class run operation. Their goal of putting the patients first had created an environment as un-hospital-like as possible while offering care that far surpasses what other cancer treatment facilities are doing. With an organization so driven and professionally run, it came as no surprise that the people I met while I was there were warm, professional and incredibly knowledgeable. They were all individuals you would want on your side when you are in the fight of your life.
Sharon Day is the Director of Nutrition for the Goodyear CTCA. Her role at the CTCA is to not only oversee all of the dieticians working with patients, but to work closely with the chef in their dining room to make sure that all of the meals served to patients work with their individual dietary needs. This seems like an obvious thing to do; however, having seen the meals served in hospitals, it is very clear that this is not the norm.
As dieticians, their first goal is to prevent or reverse malnutrition that can result from cancer treatment. Their next goal is to be a resource to patients to educate about foods that have cancer fighting potential and to help them make gradual changes in their diet and habits for long-term success.
When patients come to CTCA after receiving a cancer diagnosis, they meet with a dietician on their first day and continue to throughout their treatment. Dieticians work with each patient individually to assess their current diet, the type of cancer they are dealing with, the effects of the treatment they will be receiving, how to help patients make the diet changes they need to assist in their healing, and to give them the information and tools to continue this course when they return home.
These individual dietary plans outline the foods they should focus on for their healing. While they may differ from patient to patient, they all focus on increasing the quantity and variety of organic fruits and vegetables. Depending on the course of treatment, some patients face loss of appetite that can lead to malnutrition. Other patients may need to make adjustments to their daily meals to change their protein intake, sodium levels or to avoid food allergens. Each patient and diagnosis is different, and dieticians work with the individual and their clinicians to assess their specific needs so that their diet can work in tandem with their treatment.
To help patients successfully make these changes, Sharon also works closely with Executive Chef Frank Caputo at CTCA. Together they are creating a database of every meal prepared and served at the CTCA and analyzing the nutritional value for each meal. This is time-consuming and monumental, when you think of the size and scope of a kitchen serving an entire hospital, but it has proved to be invaluable to patient care. In effect, they are creating a nutritional label similar to one you would find on any food label at a grocery store. But these labels they are creating are not for packaged foods, but for meals prepared fresh and made from scratch daily in their kitchen. They are analyzing every ingredient to fully evaluate the complete meal served to a patient. Patients are also educated on how to properly read nutritional labels, so that they are making the best choices. Each patient room at the CTCA is outfitted with televisions that have the meal selections on them for patients to access and request. Only the meals that fit within a patient’s dietary plan are displayed, eliminating the temptation for selections that would work against their diets, and allowing patients to see the host of options that fit their goals. Having seen the kitchen and what the types of dishes that Executive Chef Caputo creates, these are meals that can stand the scrutiny of restaurant critics. The food created here is intended to meet all of patients medical needs, while also satisfying their basic need to enjoy the meal before them. This may be a hospital, but they are not serving ‘hospital food’.
Through the process of analyzing the nutritional content of their meals, Sharon is able to collaborate with Chef Caputo to adjust how meals are prepared to reduce the fat, sodium or sugar in a recipe. Both know that meals that do not appeal to a patient won’t be eaten, so recipes are adjusted with both the nutrition and the flavor in mind. Having a chef and dietician work together to meet these goals is yet another distinction that sets the CTCA apart. Sharon attributes Chef Caputo’s ability to show patients that good nutrition can come without sacrificing flavor as being huge in helping patients overcome some of the mental barriers to changing dietary habits.
But it is not just identifying what is in the meals at CTCA that helps in a patient’s treatment. One of their greatest resources as dieticians, Sharon told me, was in educating patients on foods that have cancer-fighting potential. First and foremost, they want to increase the fruits, vegetables and whole grains in a patient’s diet. They explain the benefits of foods high in Omega 3s that have anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight cancer, versus those high in Omega 6s, often found in processed foods, which create inflammation. It is through understanding food on a scientific level, that patients are able to see the direct correlation between nutrition and its impact on health.
Dieticians develop relationships with patients to take that education and help them learn how to put that knowledge into practice. They take patients to grocery stores and teach them how to shop for the food; they explain how to create meals with the proper portion size and calorie count for the diets. They also advice patients on what to look for when they dine out and try to help them avoid some of the marketing pitfalls that can be detrimental to their diet. They also involve the hospital’s kitchen staff to offer culinary demonstrations and cooking classes, and send patients recipes that will appeal to their palettes. They remain in constant contact with their patients, whether they are at the hospital or back at home, to continue offering advice, information and most of all, encouragement.
As it relates to us, patients are also educated on the difference between organic and conventionally-grown produce, and they are given the names of local organic farmers and farmers’ markets in their area. Organic fruits and vegetables are an essential part of every patient’s dietary plan, both for their current treatment and for future prevention. According to cancer studies, Sharon told me that 30 to 40% of cancer diagnoses are attributed to diet and lifestyle. In her role, she wants patients to have the most nutritious options while they are receiving treatments at CTCA, and to have the most information as possible to take home with them to continue their healing.
Food is absolutely key to the treatment of cancer, and at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America organic produce is at the heart of their dietary recommendations to patients.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America
at Western Regional Medical Center
14200 W. Fillmore Street
Goodyear, Arizona 85338