On Wednesday I participated in the fourth of four nutrition workshops at Maggie’s in Dundee. Sue, the tutor, is a retired dietitian, and runs this group for people who live with Cancer, on a drop-in basis. The aim is to explore how various dietary choices can support your feeling of wellbeing on your Cancer journey.
I don’t have Cancer; but I’ve recently been studying the connections between the so-called Mediterranean Diet, and Cancer prevention. My friend Amanda works alongside Maggie’s, and when she heard about my interest, made the necessary introductions. This has been a brilliant opportunity for me, to see how theory gets translated into practice, and I’m very grateful to Amanda and Sue, and all the women and men with Cancer who allowed me to join in their conversations. It was a privilege.
Sue’s four sessions were based on the government’s Eatwell Guide. So we had two hours on each of Fruit and Veg; then Carbs; then Oils and Fats; and finally, Salt and Sugar. In each session, Sue prepared some recipes and talked us through the whys and wherefores of various foods and their provenance. There was plenty time for discussions. And then we ate all the food! What a brilliant learning opportunity – so much better than just reading a recipe book, or even watching a dish being made on television. I saw things being made that I’d read about – like Bircher Muesli – which I just didn’t fancy enough to try. (Oats soaked overnight in milk? Doesn’t sound promising …) Yet the results were delicious, and I’ll definitely make it again.
No surprises in the fact that there isn’t a magic dietary bullet for Cancer. The advice is the same as eating for general good health: lots of fruit and veg, high fibre unless it’s upsetting your system (sometimes affected by the condition or the treatment), oily fish a couple of times a week, and avoid processed foods because they are usually high in salt and sugar. Not too much red or processed meat, not too much dairy. Straightforward, really. But we all get into ruts, cooking the things we know; and Sue showed us some dishes which were easy and tasty and unknown to many of us.
For example, we had mung bean salad; red pepper soup; winter dried fruit salad, with yoghurt and toasted hazelnuts; lentils with red onions in a mustardy-horseradishy dressing; soda bread rolls; smoked mackerel, beetroot and potato salad; hummus; spicy red pepper dip; lemon-tossed popcorn; little oaty-cranberry bundles. And the Bircher Muesli as mentioned earlier. It was all beautiful to behold, and delightful to eat, and left you feeling nicely satisfied afterwards. There is no hardship at all in eating like this; it just takes a bit of planning. Sue’s approach to the recipes was very refreshing too – if you don’t like one ingredient, just substitute another. No major fuss about measuring – a handful will do. We were given recipes too. The links I’ve added here aren’t Sue’s but have the same kind of slant. Also, you can buy a recipe book from Maggie’s.
Maggie’s Centres are architecturally acclaimed, and provide a calm, warm, safe space where people can drop in, have a cup of tea, a chat, browse some great resources, get some specialist advice if they need it, share their experiences with other people with similar conditions, and attend a range of classes if they want to. The emphasis is on empowerment – nurturing people through some difficult times and helping them find the courage and confidence to carry on. People who go there praise the skills and dedication of the doctors and nurses and others who help them on the clinical side of their treatment. And then they say that Maggie’s gives them back a sense of themselves.
I hope none of you ever need Maggie’s – but if you do, I’d say this; you couldn’t find a better source of wisdom.