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At a cooking class at the University Health Network's Ellicsr Kitchen at the Toronto General Hospital, the focus is on the role food plays in cancer treatment and recovery.

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Here in the basement of the Toronto General Hospital, good food is considered a crucial factor in supporting patients – especially those who are being treated for cancer. Hosts - registered dietitian Christy Brissette and wellness chef Geremy Capone - talk about pickling with patients, family members, volunteers and staff who attended a cooking class at the University Health Network's Ellicsr Kitchen at the Toronto General Hospital.

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Patients, family members, volunteers and staff attend the cooking class. The Ellicsr Kitchen hosts a series of healthy cooking demonstrations every month.

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It’s the kind of supplementary program the medical and wellness fields are creating as more is learned about the ongoing role nutrition can play in helping cancer patients recover from palate- and appetite-destroying radiation and chemotherapy treatments – and maybe even keeping cancer at bay. Workshops, one-on-one appointments with oncology dietitians and even cancer-specific meal-delivery programs are springing up across North America.

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The series runs three Thursdays a month out of a slick television studio that would rival any Food Network production, and is hosted by Capone and registered dietitian Christy Brissette. (Webisodes are available online.) They plan the menus together, Brissette making sure to hit the health notes – on potential medication interactions or antioxidant powerhouses – while Capone hits the flavour notes, with the input of participants, who faithfully fill out audience questionnaires about their needs.

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Lemon zucchini pickles are prepared during this particular class.

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Capone says most of his audience is made up of cancer patients who have undergone treatment and find eating a challenge at a time when they need good nutrition the most. The details are individual, but the queries he and Brissette field most often are about side effects, including a lack of taste, not being able to tolerate smells and how to combat a metallic taste in the mouth. Some patients also have a problem with saliva production and swallowing. Brissette, whose clinical practice is focused on head and neck cancers, says some of her patients have trouble with acidic foods like tomatoes.

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Reaching for food, Lucy Lu and Hina Akmal were among the patients, family members, volunteers and staff who attended the class.

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Steelhead trout marinated in a brine with lemon zucchini pickles. Advice can include using lemon peel instead of lemon juice, or rice-wine vinegar instead of other vinegars for those sensitive to acid. Skipping metal bowls or tin foil can reduce metallic flavours, a common problem for cancer patients. To combat dull taste buds, the pair focus on spices, big flavours and the appearance of food. Today’s bounty is, indeed, a long way from a hospital tray filled with wan Salisbury steak or worse, a fortified liquid meal replacement.

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Prepared during a cooking class for patients, Erkki Valto's pickled beets and roasted vegetables.

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Lakhwinder Dhaliwal and Marie Maysuik enjoy their meal.

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