Eating seasonal foods: sweet potatoes

Research has shown that eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active can reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer. During cancer treatment, healthy eating can help improve your energy and immune system and provide you with the nutrients your body needs to thrive. Eating locally and seasonally is always an excellent choice. Some of the benefits of eating locally and seasonally include:

  • Locally grown foods may be more nutrient dense.
  • Seasonal foods may add a richer flavor to your taste profile.
  • Seasonal and locally grown foods can enhance food safety by decreasing chances of contamination from distribution and transportation.
  • Locally grown foods allow us to know that they are grown safely and most often without pesticides and insecticides, meanwhile supporting local farmers and the economy.

Kentucky is exceptional when it comes to advocating eating local and seasonal foods. Kentucky Proud is a motto and organization that encourages Kentuckians to eat safe and nutritious foods. The Kentucky Proud ebsite includes great tips and topics for eating healthier and more nutritious foods grown here in Kentucky.  Check out their resources that include a product availability chart for seasonal foods and shows some of the health benefits, such as nutrient and antioxidant content, of eating colorful foods.

Sweet potatoes are presently in season! They are a sweet and savory vegetable that provides a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin C. Both vitamin A and C are pertinent to immune health and have anti-inflammatory properties. Beta-carotene and anthocyanin, which is found in purple sweet potatoes, have been studied in keeping our cells healthy in relation to cancer prevention, including cancers of the colon, breast, stomach and lung. No one food works alone; sweet potatoes should be part of a variety of fruits and vegetables in a balanced diet.

Here is a tasty and filling recipe to try that highlights sweet potatoes:

Savory Sweet Potato Burritos

Yields eight burritos.


  • 2 small onions, sliced thin
  • 3 medium peppers (variety), sliced thin
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into strips
  • 1 1/2 T oil
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans
  • 8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 lime
  • Chili powder, to taste
  • 8 whole wheat tortillas


  1. Place sweet potato strips into microwave safe bowl, add 1/4 cup water and cook for 8-10 minutes, until all pieces are soft.
  2. While sweet potato is cooking, stir fry onions and peppers in oil on the stove over medium high heat, until onions are soft.
  3. Layer burritos in the tortilla with yogurt, chili powder, sweet potato, onion, peppers and black beans. Squeeze 1/8 of lime over the contents and wrap.
  4. Eat and enjoy!

Recipe retrieved and modified from

By guest blogger, Rachel Flanery, University of Kentucky Dietetics and Human Nutrition Student

Advocating Avocados

Open-faced avocado sandwiches with pesto

Open-faced avocado sandwiches with pesto

If you haven’t yet discovered this fruit deemed a “super food,” it may be worth a try for several reasons. It is a recommended addition to anyone’s diet for its health benefits, as well as those who need to add healthy calories for weight management during cancer treatment.

  1. Fiber: Avocados contain 9 grams of fiber each, which is 36% of the daily value for most adults. Additional fiber in the diet can help with unwanted side effects of treatment including constipation and diarrhea.
  2. Fat: They contain 20 grams of total fat which usually gives foods a bad rap; however, avocados contain mostly unsaturated fat which has anti-inflammatory properties and gives them their creamy texture. It also helps our body to increase absorption of valuable nutrients.
  3. Calories: One avocado provides roughly 220 calories or more, depending on the size; usually about 240 calories per cup of cubed avocados. Guacamole or plain avocado can be spread on sandwiches or wraps, enjoyed plain, with eggs, added to salads, as a dip or on toast for breakfast and offers more nutrition than many dips or spreads.
  4. Vitamins and minerals: Avocados are an excellent source of potassium, which can be decreased with the administration of some chemotherapy drugs. One avocado contains 660mg of potassium which is 14% of the daily value. In addition, avocados are a good source of folate and B vitamins that help our bodies produce energy. Avocados also provide us with antioxidants to keep cells healthy!

With all these benefits in one place, why not take advantage? Check out this recipe from the American Cancer Society for Crab Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Baby Greens from the Great American Eat-Right Cookbook.

Summer Smoothie!

Summer calls for sunshine and something refreshing – such as a smoothie! Creating a nutritional drink from fruit, fruit juices and dairy foods (such as yogurt) is fast and as easy as the touch of a button on a blender.

Smoothies are great for those going through treatment, as cold beverages can be soothing, easy to tolerate and are a great source of much-needed nutrition. Getting the additional protein, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, B vitamins and fiber this smoothie provides can be a boost toward feeling better!

Want additional protein? Substitute Greek yogurt. You may also add whey protein powder that can be found at the grocery store.

Using a nutritional supplement drink (Boost, Ensure, etc.) in place of yogurt adds calories, protein and vitamins and minerals. (You may want to increase the amount of frozen strawberries to get the consistency you like.)

Frozen strawberries usually are available at grocery stores, or you can freeze some yourself!

Try this smoothie to get some great nutrition with a sweet and tart taste. This recipe is low-calorie but packed with nutrition.


Strawberry-canteloupe smoothie

Try this strawberry-cantaloupe smoothie to get some great nutrition with a sweet and tart taste.

Strawberry-Melon Smoothie

1 cup orange juice

1 cup cut-up cantaloupe

1 carton (8 oz.) nonfat plain yogurt

1 bag (10 oz.) frozen, unsweetened strawberries

In blender, puree orange juice with cantaloupe. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 93 calories, <1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 2 g dietary fiber, 40 mg sodium.

From the American Institute of Cancer Research’s Test Kitchen

Tempt your taste buds!

Change in taste is one of the unwelcome side effects from radiation and/or chemotherapy,  with the sense of taste being completely dulled – or the opposite effect of some flavors being heightened, such as sweet or bitter.  Either can make food seem unappetizing.  This recipe includes bold flavors that may be more appealing to the patient who is experiencing a sense of dulled taste.  It also provides plenty of calories, protein and fiber, which are important during treatment.

You can skip the habanero pepper if you don’t like it spicy, and a regular onion may be used in place of a Spanish onion.

African Chicken Stew



1 lb. skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut in 2-inch pieces

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 Tbsp. grated ginger

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 Tbsp. fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth, or water

Canola oil spray

1 Spanish onion, half sliced, half finely chopped

1 can (28 oz.) tomatoes, with juices

1 habanero chile pepper, chopped

1/4 cup ketchup

1/3 cup reduced-fat peanut butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Place the chicken in a 1-quart resealable plastic bag. Combine the garlic, ginger, oregano, and broth in a small bowl. Add the seasoning mixture to the bag and massage it to coat the chicken with the seasonings. Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 hours to overnight.

Coat a large Dutch oven with cooking spray and set it over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken pieces until they are white on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer them to a plate and set aside.

Coat the pot again with cooking spray. Sauté the sliced onion until limp, 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes with half their liquid, the chile pepper and ketchup. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the sauce 10 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Blend the peanut butter in the remaining tomato juice until smooth. Add it to the pot. Return the chicken to the pot. Simmer until the chicken is white in the center, about 15 minutes. Serve, accompanied by cooked brown rice.


Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 341 calories, 11 g. total fat (2 g. saturated fat), 25 g. carbohydrate, 33 g. protein, 5 g. dietary fiber, 563 mg. sodium.

From the American Institute of Cancer Research Test Kitchen.

To drink (alcohol) or not to drink…

Shelf of liquor bottles

Yes or no to alcohol during cancer treatment?

According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, studies show evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of head and neck cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx (throat) and larynx, as well as cancer of the esophagus, breast in women and colorectum in men.

Drinking alcohol also has been linked to risk in colorectal cancer in women as well as liver cancer.  Per the National Cancer Institute, those who use alcohol in combination with tobacco products have been found to greatly increase the risk of cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus, as opposed to those who use either alone.

There is no actual safe recommendation for alcohol consumption, though you may have heard that alcohol in moderation may reduce the risk of heart disease.  The American Heart Association recommends that if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, which is defined as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.  A drink is defined as one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.

Can I have a drink during my cancer treatment?

Alcohol may have some adverse effects during some cancer treatments. It is recommended to avoid alcohol during radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, as it can be extremely drying, exacerbate painful swallowing as well as contribute to dehydration.

Staying hydrated is very important during chemotherapy as well, so alcohol may be more detrimental during that time.  Even in small amounts, alcohol can irritate mouth sores or potentially interact with any drugs you may be receiving.

It is not yet clear whether alcohol use is linked to recurrence after cancer treatment; though, as discussed above, it may increase the risk for a new cancer.

If you drink alcohol, be sure to discuss your intake with your physician.

Read what the American Cancer Society has to say regarding alcohol intake.


What am I going to eat now?

Ramen noodle soup

Ramen noodle soup

When you’re feeling fatigued, it’s difficult enough to think of what to have for your next meal, let alone prepare it.

To help with both the guesswork and the preparation, here’s a food that many people have in their pantries, is inexpensive and takes very little time to prepare.  What is it?  Ramen noodles!

In this recipe, we increase the calories and boost overall nutrition by using common kitchen seasonings and vegetables, rather than using the high-sodium flavor packet.  (If sodium isn’t a health issue for you, you might still try using only half of any flavor packet.)

Be creative and substitute any other pasta-friendly ingredients you may have.

Mushroom Ramen

Prep Time: 7 min

Cook Time: 5 min

Serves: 1


1 packet Ramen noodles, any flavor*

1 pound wild mushrooms (or any type of mushroom and amount you would like)

Vegetable oil (enough to sauté mushrooms, 1-2 teaspoons)

1 tablespoon butter

Garlic salt or salt and pepper to taste


Soak 1 packet ramen noodles in warm water, 5 minutes; drain. Stir-fry 1 pound sliced wild mushrooms and the garlic salt/seasonings in a cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil, 3 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add 1 tablespoon butter and the noodles to the skillet, toss 1 minute, then add the mushrooms.

Serve immediately.

*Leaving out the flavor packet increases the nutritional value of the dish, as the flavor packet is packed with salt.  If you want to use the flavor packet, try using only half of it, and don’t use the other seasonings when sautéing the mushrooms.

Don’t like mushrooms?  Sautee one of your favorite vegetables or a mix of them instead, such as zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers, onions, peas, etc. to add to the noodles.

Add cooked ground or shredded meat for additional protein, such as ground turkey, shredded chicken or tuna fish.  Sprinkle cheese on top for additional calories, protein and flavor.

Whetting your appetite

Staying nourished during cancer treatment

During cancer treatment, staying nourished can become a chore, especially if you have lost your appetite or don’t feel well enough to eat.  It’s a “Catch 22,” because you need to be fully nourished at the same time that you feel the least like eating.

Here are a few strategies to help boost your calorie intake, which will help you avoid weight loss and fatigue:

  • Apple slices with peanut butter

    Apple slices with peanut butter make a good snack.

    Eat smaller meals and eat more often.

    If you aren’t able to consume your usual sized meal, try eating what you can, but do so more frequently. You can try to get nutrition in every 2 to 3 hours to optimize your intake.

  • Have higher-calorie foods available.

    Keep nutritiously dense foods around to help increase your caloric intake.  If you are eating small volumes, make the nutrition count with high-calorie, high-protein foods, such as peanut butter, tuna or chicken salads, nutritional supplements and foods that you enjoy.

  • Man Throwing Stick For Dog On Walk Through Autumn Woods

    Physical activity can stimulate your appetite.

    Be physically active, with your physician’s approval.

    Physical activity can stimulate appetite, even if it’s something as simple as walking around the neighborhood or doing housework.

  • Trigger your senses.

    Sometimes, the smell of baking bread or thinking about a favorite food can help to trigger your appetite.  Cooking a meal in a slow cooker during the day may wake up your taste buds.

  • Make mealtimes enjoyable.

    Surround your mealtimes with friends, family, music and favorite dishes – even flowers at the table.  Making it a social time and using brighter colors or lighting may help lighten your “food mood,” too.

Other causes of poor appetite and intake may be from side effects of your treatments, such as pain, constipation or nausea.

Discuss remedies of these with your health care provider so that you can focus on your daily activities – especially eating.  You may also wish to talk to your doctor about medications to increase your appetite.

Sore mouth management

A sore and sensitive mouth is something that patients commonly experience during cancer and cancer treatment. The changes that you may experience can make eating and maintaining weight a definite challenge. Discussing possible side effects of your treatment with your physician and pharmacist can help you with precautions and offers a way to stay ahead of your nutritional needs.

Blueberry yogurt

Blueberry yogurt is soothing.

Here are some tips to make your mouth feel better – which will make getting good nutrition easier:

  • Soft, bland foods served cold or at room temperature are a good idea. Try creamed soups, yogurt, pudding and tender-cooked meats such as chicken, beef and fish. Other soothing foods are milkshakes, mashed potatoes, bananas, applesauce, cottage cheese, pasta and gelatin.
  • Cold foods are often soothing:  Try freezing your favorite fruits for a snack or have frozen fruit pops and ice chips to help stay hydrated. Also, try chilled nutritional supplement drinks for additional nutrition; these can also be mixed with ice cream.
  • Moisten foods with gravy, sauces, butter, soup or broth for a more tolerable experience with meals (and to add needed, extra calories). Even drizzling olive oil on appropriate foods may make eating less painful.

Avoid these to keep your mouth comfortable:

  • Citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons, as well as tomatoes because of their high acid content
  • Spices and seasonings, such as pepper, chili powder, cloves and nutmeg
  • Rough and dry foods, such as dry toast, crackers or hard snacks, such as pretzels
  • Mouthwashes, alcoholic and acidic beverages and tobacco

Ask your health care provider if there are any medications that could help soothe or numb your mouth or throat.

For more information related to managing sore mouth and other side effects of cancer treatment, check out these tips.

Managing side effects

Nausea and vomiting are the two most common side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and other clinical treatments. Sometimes, these side effects occur the day of treatment, but they also can linger for a while. Either way, the discomfort can be managed, and here are some tips that may provide some relief.

Communicate with your physician.

There are several anti-nausea medications that may help you during this process. If your nausea and vomiting continue, tell your doctor. While some medications may work for one person, they may not be as effective for another. Always take your medications as directed, and avoid taking them on an empty stomach, unless otherwise specified.

Choose more stomach-friendly foods.

Peppermint candies

Peppermint candies can help ease nausea.

Crackers, toast, dry cereal, bread sticks and bland foods are easier to eat when feeling nauseated. Avoid spicy, greasy and very sweet foods, as they can make nausea worse. Hard candies, including peppermint and lemon drops, may help to ease nausea and get rid of bad tastes in your mouth. Eating six-to-eight small meals a day may help in two ways: by keeping food in your stomach longer and by only having to digest smaller portions at a time.

Make yourself comfortable.

Eat meals in a cool and calm place, and avoid smells that may trigger nausea. Food odors are strongest when they are hot; so, you could try to stay out of the kitchen when meals are being prepared. Remember that other strong odors aside from food may trigger nausea as well, such as perfume and cleansers.

Ensure that you are staying hydrated.

Vomiting increases the risk of dehydration, so be sure to sip liquids such as juices, sports drinks and soda (as tolerated) throughout the day. Call your doctor if your vomiting continues without relief.

Learn more about managing treatment side effects »

More calories for when you need them most

Strategies for healthy eating during cancer treatment

To compound everything else about living with cancer, the common side effects of cancer treatment include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting and fatigue, to name a few. This makes it much more difficult to eat at a time when your body needs the most nutrition it can get. Being strategic about what you eat can help to achieve an adequate number of calories – when you’re feeling more like taking a nap than eating.

If you aren’t able to eat a full meal, don’t pressure yourself: Break up your meals into six to eight small ones throughout the day; or, try to eat something every two to three hours to maximize the opportunity to give your body nutrition.

Eat the foods that you can tolerate best, with calories and protein being your priorities.

Assorted nuts

Nuts are an excellent source of protein.

Make your calories count:

  • Try to incorporate a protein source each time you eat for help regenerating healthy cells
  • Keep foods on hand that are high in calories and protein such as nuts, peanut butter, tuna salad, chicken salad, spreads and dips; that way, you don’t have to eat a large amount to get the nutritional benefit
  • Fortify your foods with powdered-milk powder, protein powder or by adding cream or whole milk, butter, cheese, sauces, gravies and salad dressings

Smoothies are an easy way to add calories to your diet.

Drinking a shake or nutritional supplement drink when you take medications can afford you extra calories and protein, especially if taken more than once per day. Nutritional supplement drinks can be purchased in the grocery store, usually near the pharmacy. Look for “plus” versions, which will have more calories and protein per serving. For variety, blend with frozen fruit for fortified smoothies.

Remember: even eating a small amount can be beneficial. Good nutrition “adds up” in the body; so, results can be seen with consistent effort! For more information on eating well during treatment, check out these tips from the American Cancer Society.