Feeding Your Soul
By Chef Amy Noordzij
Every year during the month of March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes National Nutrition Month to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating. When I teach “Cooking with Amy” nutrition classes at the Healing Garden, my clients obtain an understanding of why good, immune-boosting nutrition is important in their treatment when affected by cancer.
Food can play an important role in creating an inhospitable environment for cancer cells. The phytonutrients that give plants their color, smell, and taste are a plant’s strongest defense. They work best when eaten together, and their unique anti-cancer properties can mitigate common side effects like nausea, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Being mindful of the clients’ time and energy, I try to share recipes that can be made ahead for easy leftovers and which also use food commonly found in our kitchens and pantries. We follow the seasons and take a new look at comfort foods and holiday favorites with a more health-supportive approach, too!
There are so many wonderful, nutritious foods to help with digestion, nausea, blood sugar, inflammation, infections, and, most importantly, healing. Some of my favorite foods to cook with include:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, kale, cabbage, and arugula. In addition to containing a healthy dose of Vitamins A and C, plus fiber, cruciferous vegetables contain a powerhouse of phytonutrients. The phytonutrients in this vegetable family aid enzymes that ward off and detoxify carcinogens and inhibit cancer formation. These dark leafy greens have a reputation!
- Mushrooms: antioxidant, prebiotic (a fiber that feeds probiotics), and anti-inflammatory properties. Their antimicrobial properties also mean they help fight off infections!
- Carrots: extremely high in Vitamin A and rich in beta carotene, not just good for eye health but also helps prevent constipation, treat indigestion, and stabilize blood sugar. Since nutrients in carrots are concentrated in or near the skin, buy organic, give them a good scrub, and use unpeeled.
- Beans and whole grains, and nuts and seeds: Layering these food groups together, building in lots of veggies, and bringing out the flavor—often with a squeeze of lemon!
- Chopped parsley: appetite stimulant.
- Ginger: Known as “universal medicine.” Nausea reducer, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and stimulates digestion. The effects of ginger are increased when consumed with a protein.
- Cinnamon: This is an All-Star Spice! ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon has more antioxidants than ½ cup of blueberries. Acts as an appetite stimulant, digestive aid, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties. Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar and aids in the absorption of nutrients.
- Turmeric: Highest known source of beta-carotene. Pared with coriander and cumin, aids in the digestion of complex carbohydrates and aids in the assimilation of protein. It is an appetite stimulant, digestive aid, and curcumin, the healing compound found in turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory properties that are especially high when paired with black pepper. It’s one of my favorite spices to use!
- Oils: Ghee to unrefined coconut oil to avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil. Each has their own health properties.
At whatever cancer stage someone is in, I imagine it can feel powerless at times. When a client attends a “Cooking with Amy” class, it is my hope that they feel a sense of community and leave class with my recipes and culinary experience, but also with the opportunity to share their experiences and learn from each other.
I hope my clients feel a sense of control in their kitchens and of what makes them feel better in the moment—one bite at a time.
Check out Chef Amy’s recipe for Baked Farro “Risotto” with Winter Squash today – and let us know what you think!
About Chef Amy Noordzij
Chef Amy has been involved with the Healing Garden for a little more than three years. She teaches cooking classes and provides catering for client events. Upon completion of the Chef Training Culinary Program from the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food and Healing, Chef Amy reached out to volunteer at the Healing Garden. She saw the Healing Garden as a natural fit for her culinary background and her prior work in education. She is very fond of the Healing Garden community and sharing experiences both in the kitchen and on Zoom!