Twenty to 50% of all cancer-related deaths are due to systematic starvation (cachexia) related to side effects from chemotherapy treatments, according to National Institutes of Health data. However, one West St. Louis County chef is determined to teach others how to combat that type of condition-specific starvation by understanding how to adjust flavors in what they cook.
With February as National Cancer Prevention Month and April being National Cancer Control Month, Chesterfield Lifestyle took the opportunity to ask for insight from this culinary artist, Ryan Callahan, who authored Cooking for Chemo...and After!
Ryan often speaks to health care workers, dietitians and families about tried-and-true cooking techniques to combat detrimental reactions to chemotherapy treatment on cancer patients’ food consumption. His Gourmand International Cookbook Award-winning cookbook is designed to empower those fighting cancer so they can live a better quality of life.
“I’m inspired by providing hope about new ways that people can keep eating while battling cancer, which increases their wellbeing. Eating’s often something they struggle with,” says the hospitality industry veteran.
“Helping people take one extra bite of food they love brightens my day.”
Ryan first applied his 15 years of culinary experience when his mother confronted cancer, because he quickly realized her desire to eat started with reactions to food aromas. He noted what worked best regarding metallic-tasting meals, nausea and her ultimate loss of appetite. He eventually produced his cancer-conquering cookbook in 2015, and updated it with new concepts, tips and techniques through a second edition in 2018.
This Wildwood-based self-publisher also sells a tasting journal that allow users to make notes on food cooked so they can improve or adjust recipes for the next time they make it; a crash-course cookbook for parents of children with cancer; and a how-to-cook cookbook with coloring pages for beginners. His training came from St. Louis Community College’s Culinary Arts program, and working under expert chefs and artisans.
What’s Inside Cooking for Chemo…and After!
This fully interactive, how-to-cook manual is divided into three major categories:
- Foundations: This section teaches the basics of flavor, how people perceive flavors, where flavors come from, and how flavors are interpreted when cooking and eating.
- Application: Building on the understanding of flavor, this part teaches how to accommodate for the most common eating-related side effects during chemo treatment periods. Ryan says each side effect has its own information dedicated to addressing each issue with proven techniques and strategies that work. "These cooking techniques work with all dietary preferences and restrictions," he adds.
- Implementation: This component includes many recipes, which Ryan built with his learned techniques. He provides details logically segmented by type of meal and then alphabetically to make this book very user friendly. Recipe sections include: main dishes, side dishes, snack recipes, soup recipes, smoothie recipes, and sauce recipes.
The cookbook's "Herbs and Spices Chart" lists all major herbs and spices, as well as their uses and functions in prepared dishes.
To prompt users to think about how to apply what they learned into their unique medical situations, Ryan inserted a "Review Questions" section in the cookbook.
"I also include an At-Home Activities portion to encourage others to become hands-on learners and to practice," says Ryan.
Ryan also expanded his outreach into providing online Cooking for Chemo classes, videos, newsletters and 20-minute podcasts during which he discusses Cooking for Chemo ideas, techniques and how to apply them into daily lives.
New editions of the groundbreaking Cooking for Chemo...and After! can be purchased from Amazon for $25; there's a Kindle version as well for $9.99. With this book, Ryan won "Best in Health and Nutrition in the USA" in 2016 from the International Gourmand Cookbook Awards, and then competed for "Best in the World."
Ryan also serves as a source to health care organizations and centers regarding how to "live better with cancer."