Eating for cancer: food is love and food is healing

Eating for cancer: food is love and food is healing

The loving and healing properties of food are twofold. When you’re feeling powerless, watching someone suffer from illness or suffer with grief, cooking and feeding is empowering. And, it literally meets a need by providing nutrition and sometimes by providing healing.

Growing up in a Baptist preacher’s family, I learned at a very young age that the best response to a crisis is to cook. When people are sick or when people die, make your best casserole and take it to the family piping hot. Food is love, and food is healing.

Cooking for another person is a powerful way to do something. You may not know what to say and you may not be able to provide emotional support, but you can always cook--fruits and vegetables, grains and spices that you transform by way of a family recipe.

People have to eat. They need to eat. Food provides comfort, and it restores energy

Since being diagnosed with cancer, I’ve become even more committed to the notion of food as love and health. David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life has changed my life both by empowering me and by helping my body to heal. I’ll not trouble you with the details of his story or his theories about food, but you owe it to yourself to read his book.

At the core of Servan-Schreiber’s theory is the concept that we don’t have to stand idly by as cancer and other illnesses consume us. Just as we can participate in risky behaviors that make us more vulnerable to disease, we can also develop healthy behaviors. Eating differently is one such behavior.

I have to be honest here and tell you that I’m not a person who believes in miracles or magic bullets. Cancer has a mind of its own. It will stop at your doorstep or it won’t. Bad things happen to good people and to people who eat well, meditate, and exercise. Dr. Servan-Schreiber, himself, eventually succumbed to brain cancer. His obituary is here.

But, doing something has rewards in and of itself. Living in a healthy way and feeding your body good food is empowering right now. If the longterm effects are to create an inhospitable place for cancer and other diseases to live, so much the better.

There’s another benefit to eating better once you’re diagnosed. Treatment wreaks havoc on your body. Food tastes different, and your body needs a greater variety of help than it did before. You may lose your appetite or you may gain weight. You might have nausea or diarrhea, constipation, fatigue or some hideous combination of these.

Food can provide immediate relief and immediate comfort. My favorite cookbook at the moment is Rebecca Katz’s The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. I’m one of those people who settles into the pillows on the couch and reads cookbooks, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Her food (and her voice) has been consistently exactly what I need, and I recommend her highly.

Today I’m making Katz’s “Magic Mineral Broth,” a vegetable stock that I’ll use in a broccoli-potato soup. My daughter is having major surgery tomorrow to mend damage done by scoliosis, and she requested some homemade soup for the hospital.

As I scrubbed sweet potatoes and chopped onions, measured juniper berries and peppercorns, I felt calm descend and the knot inside my stomach loosen. The bubbling broth fills the kitchen with purpose and hope. Doing something is good. This food is a physical emblem of my love and a mother’s attempt to help healing.

Below is Katz’s recipe for “Magic Mineral Broth” from her website.

Magic Mineral Broth

Makes 6 quarts

6 unpeeled carrots, cut into thirds
2 unpeeled yellow onions, cut into chunks
1 leek, white and green parts, cut into thirds
1 bunch celery, including the heart, cut into thirds
4 unpeeled red potatoes, quartered
2 unpeeled Japanese or regular sweet potatoes, quartered
1 unpeeled garnet yam, quartered
5 unpeeled cloves garlic, halved
1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 8-inch strip of kombu
12 black peppercorns
4 whole allspice or juniper berries
2 bay leaves
8 quarts cold, filtered water
1 teaspoon sea salt


Rinse all of the vegetables well, including the kombu. In a 12-quart or larger stockpot, combine the carrots, onions, leek, celery, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, allspice berries, and bay leaves. Fill the pot with the water to 2 inches below the rim, cover, and bring to a boil.

Remove the lid, decrease the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours. As the broth simmers, some of the water will evaporate; add more if the vegetables begin to peek out. Simmer until the full richness of the vegetables can be tasted.

Strain the broth through a large, coarse-mesh sieve (remember to use a heat-resistant container underneath), then add salt to taste.

Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.


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Filed under: Books on Cancer

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