Catherine, Geremy, and Daniela
​In the ELLICSR Kitchen, (L to R), registered dietitian (RD) Catherine Smith, wellness chef Geremy Capone and RD Daniela Fierini offer diverse nutrition and culinary resources for cancer survivors, health professionals and the public. (Photo: UHN)

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating, and nutrition plays an important supportive role throughout a patient's journey.

Proper nutrition is essential for healing, fighting infection, and having enough strength and energy to complete treatment. After treatment, adequate nutrition can help to speed recovery and reduce the risk of other cancers, cancer recurrence, and some chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

At the ELLICSR Kitchen, which is part of the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship Program within UHN's Department of Supportive Care, the perfect pairing of wellness chef Geremy Capone and registered dietitians Daniela Fierini and Catherine Smith blend their talents and expertise to help patients find joy in food and eating again.

"We use evidence-based and integrative nutrition and cooking demonstrations to equip patients and caregivers with tools to self-manage nutrition-related symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment," says Daniela, who has worked with the ELLICSR Kitchen since 2022 and has been an RD with the Princess Margaret since 1990. "Cancer survivors gain practical skills and confidence to optimize their eating and overall health."

March is Nutrition Month, a time to shine a light on the importance of good nutrition and healthy eating for the well-being of Canadians. Rigorously trained and regulated health care professionals, dietitians are the most credible source for food and nutrition information, and work to address the nutritional needs and challenges of the many varied and unique communities they serve.

At UHN, dietitians have many roles in diverse areas to contribute to patients' overall health and quality of life. The Clinical Nutrition team of about 70 registered dietitians and eight clinical diet technicians work with multidisciplinary care teams and members of UHN Nutrition Services to contribute to patients' overall health and quality of life.

UHN Nutrition Services includes six administrative registered dietitians and 225 staff and supervisors. The team plays a key role in ensuring meals, snacks, and nutrition supplements and formulas are delivered to the inpatient units daily. 

Although the ELLICSR Kitchen is tucked away in the basement of the Toronto General Hospital in the ELLICSR Centre for Health, Wellness, and Cancer Survivorship, technological advances and social media augment the program's accessibility beyond the physical building.

The ELLICSR Kitchen website and YouTube channel offer diverse nutrition and culinary resources for cancer survivors, health professionals and the public. The third Thursday of every month features the live stream of a cooking class, which can be viewed on YouTube.

"The integrative cooking demonstrations provide patients with a safe space to apply the newly acquired nutrition knowledge to meals they can easily prepare," says Geremy, who over the course of 13 years at the ELLICSR Kitchen has built a legion of loyal followers.

The ELLICSR Kitchen offers a wide range of programs, including:

  • Virtual cooking and nutrition demonstrations delivered monthly on the ELLICSR Kitchen YouTube Channel. Each class has a different cancer nutrition theme with three newly designed recipes that are budget-friendly and easy to prepare. Recent themes have included "Cancer prevention guidelines for colorectal cancer;" "Latest nutrition research on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy;" and "The Mediterranean way of eating with anti-inflammatory foods."

"This was a fantastic session," one viewer wrote about the YouTube classes. “Great recipes, clear instructions. I can't wait to try the recipes."

  • "Cooking for Vitality" – a nutrition and culinary program that addresses cancer-related fatigue. It includes one virtual class delivered monthly and seven weekly emails that provide recipes, nutrition, and culinary tips. It's for anyone with cancer at any point in their cancer journey.

"Thank you!" one patient wrote about the "Cooking for Vitality" program. "I have just started chemo after surgery for ovarian cancer. My first cycle was – no appetite, lost weight. No interest in food.

"These ideas and tips will help me get through the next five cycles."

  • "Feel Good and Eat Well" – Learn to make your own nutrition action plan after a diagnosis. This six-week hybrid (in-person and virtual) program takes a deeper dive into the cancer prevention guidelines and helps patients develop practical food skills to support overall health. It's intended for people diagnosed with cancer who have minimal side effects and do not have significant weight loss.

"This program was instrumental in the return of my energy and joy of cooking," says Barbara Newburg, a cancer survivor treated at the Princess Margaret, who attended the "Feel Good and Eat Well" program. "I was given not only invaluable information and a skillset for building a healthy nutritional program, but also incredibly delicious recipes that require little effort in the kitchen using ingredients that are already in my pantry or easily accessible."

Many cancer survivors fear eating the "wrong" foods. Some wonder if what they ate is the reason they have cancer. There's also confusion in the often-conflicting nutrition and cancer information out there.

At the ELLICSR Kitchen, the approach is to try to help empower cancer survivors in the kitchen.

"Cancer and treatment have a wide range of side effects and impacts on a person's nutrition," says RD Catherine Smith, who joined the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship team in 2022. "These can include changes in taste, fluctuations in appetite, chewing and swallowing difficulties, gastrointestinal distress, unintentional weight loss or gain, fatigue, and peripheral neuropathy.

"These all add another layer of trepidation and we know caregivers experience similar fears and doubts. Our goal is to help them realize they are not making this journey alone."

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