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Broccoli not burgers: Cancer patients favor healthier foods

BOSTON (Reuters) - Hold the beer, burgers and French fries. Bring on the water, farm-fresh produce, chicken, pasta and hearty soups.

That's the advice to care givers from a consortium of nutritional researchers following a two-year survey of what U.S. cancer patients prefer to eat and drink.

The study released on Tuesday by the Cancer Nutrition Consortium aims to improve the lives of cancer patients by helping them get the meals they want while combating the weight loss and fatigue that often comes with aggressive treatment.

Researchers surveyed 1,203 patients at seven of the world's leading cancer centers, including Dana-Farber and the Mayo Clinic, and found 40 percent developed more sensitive palates after starting treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Some 52 percent of the surveyed patients said they were avoiding greasy or fried foods, 44 percent said they were avoiding spicy foods, and nearly a third said they were avoiding acidic foods like grapefruit. Most patients cited intolerance, while less than half said they were acting on the advice of doctors.

Some 69 percent of patients said they preferred fruits and vegetables, around 60 percent favored soups and poultry, and more than half said they liked pasta and fish, according to the research.

"Typically the patients ran for the healthier foods. But there were exceptions, and it is important to keep in mind that it is not one size fits all," said Kathy McManus, director of nutrition at Dana-Farber.

The study also showed most patients staying away from beverages like beer, wine and soda, while gravitating toward healthier options like water and fruit juice.

"Many of our patients suffer from problems getting adequate nutrition through treatment, and some of them are unsure about what they should be eating," said Terry Langbaum, chief operating officer for Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, which also participated in the study.

"This research study involved the patients and truly helped us to better understand preferences," he said.

The study was underwritten by Jeremy Jacobs, chairman and CEO of global food and hospitality service provider Delaware North Companies, and conducted by marketing firm WHP Research.

The research recommends care givers develop recipes, prepared foods and menus that are tailored to the preferences of cancer patients, but is not intended to advance Delaware North's business, WHP President Wendy Price said.

The Cancer Nutrition Consortium said it was launching a website that includes recipes designed by chefs and tailored to the findings of the survey.

The bottom line for hospital kitchens putting together their menus in the oncology ward: "Limit greasy and fried food offerings since about one-half of patients are avoiding these types of foods," according to the study.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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