From treatment to treats, Alabama doctor finds food is good medicine for cancer patients

From treatment to treats, Alabama doctor finds food is good medicine for cancer patients
Dr. Luis Pineda is both a physician and a chef helping patients through Cooking with Cancer. (photo by Marc Bondarenko)

Dr. Luis Pineda has been a practicing oncologist/hematologist for about 38 years. Like many in his field, he longed for a way to make the treatments for cancer easier for his patients.

His life’s work took an interesting turn in 2003 during rounds as he began to notice the cans of liquid supplements on the nightstands of his patients. Each day, there were more cans, and his patients continued to suffer the lingering effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms robbed Pineda’s patients from the simple act of eating a meal to regain the nutrients they needed to fight the cancer he was helping their bodies to overcome.

“I realized I needed to help my patients in a different way, by combining my knowledge of medicine with the science of food,” Pineda said. “This led me to Culinard where I could experiment with medicine and the art of cooking. I needed to find ways to stimulate their taste buds after their chemo and radiation. There truly is a science to food.”

For two years of eight-hour Saturdays, Pineda traded his physician’s jacket for a chef’s coat as he became a student again – this time at the Culinary Institute at Virginia College. His mission was different from the other chefs-in-training, but the outcome would be the same – to give others pleasure through food.

Dr. Luis Pineda believes cancer patients shouldn’t miss out on gourmet food from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

As a student, his instructors noticed some of Pineda’s culinary combinations were a bit unorthodox, yet they served a purpose. He began to craft dishes that used ingredients intended to stimulate taste, aid in digestion, ease mouth inflammation, and even detoxify the body. His concoctions are quite tasty as well!

“It’s easy to use simple, everyday inexpensive ingredients to bring good things back to the body,” Pineda said. “Our cultures center around the kitchen. It’s where we gather and make memories that last a lifetime. When something happens to take that away from us, it takes more than just food from us. It takes those good memories away from us.”

While Pineda’s recipes have not been scientifically tested by the traditional standards of medical research, they are based upon his knowledge as a trained physician and chef. Each recipe is created for a specific reason, highlighting ingredients that are known to be cathartic in some way. For example, many of Pineda’s recipes rely on chili peppers due to their levels of capsaicin, which can stimulate a cancer patient’s taste buds as well as ease symptoms of nausea.

Pineda’s mission to help those with cancer enjoy a better quality of life through good food culminated in the creation of Cooking with Cancer Inc., a non-profit organization with the ultimate goal to provide better understanding of how food can be a healing factor in cancer patients. Cooking with Cancer operates on donations and by the sale of Pineda’s cookbook, “Prescription to Taste: A Cooking Guide for Cancer Patients.” The cookbook and companion DVD have sold more than 30,000 copies nationally and internationally.

For Pineda, there is no standing still. He continues to push forward in educating his patients toward new eating habits, by guest lecturing on cancer prevention and community outreach, and with cooking demonstrations, but there is always more to learn.

“There’s always something new to learn in cooking and in medicine,” Pineda said. “There’s always someone we can help. My dream is that every patient diagnosed with cancer receives a copy of this book for free.”

To learn more about Cooking with Cancer Inc., order a cookbook or make a donation, visit the website.


This story originally appeared on the Medical Association of the State of Alabama’s website as part of its “Physicians Giving Back” series. To recommend a physician, contact Lori Quiller at [email protected]

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