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Cancer and Nutrition Specialists at Montefiore Team Up to Help Patients Eat Healthy

NEW YORK CITY, NY (September 11, 2009) -- Men and women with cancer who come to the Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cancer Care for radiation and chemotherapy are getting expert advice on how to choose fresh and healthy foods to help fight their disease and minimize the side effects of treatment, and they don't have to go very far to shop and learn. 

Each Thursday, oncology nutritionist Maria Romano gathers a small group of patients and caregivers in the hospital's radiation oncology waiting room, and together they walk outside to the hospital's Farmers Market in the garden beside the main entrance. Maria then guides the group on a tour past tables stacked with fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, baked goods, pasta, nuts, describing the benefits of each and providing one-on-one advice geared toward each patient's unique needs.

She takes the group to the selection of fresh herbs at the market, including parsley, basil, cilantro and dill, explaining how each has natural anti-nausea effects that can be experienced by simply inhaling their scent. Since muscle wasting is a common side effect of cancer and its treatments, Maria points out protein-filled fish, nuts and hummus available at the market's booths. And to help patients and caregivers take advantage of the abundance of fresh fruits at the market, she provides recipes for smoothies that are packed with vitamins and minerals and provide a consistency can be very soothing to cancer patients, especially those with head and neck cancer whose radiation treatments cause sore throat or painful swallowing.

The tour is the heart of a new program called Eat Healthy, Shop Smart that was conceived by Maria and Dr. Shalom Kalnicki, Chairman of Radiation Oncology at Montefiore, who witnessed the popularity of the medical center's farmers market and saw an opportunity to set up an outdoor classroom of sorts for cancer patients. The farmers market is a new offering this summer at Montefiore, an element of hospital President and CEO Dr. Steven Safyer's vision to create a wholesome oasis here in the Bronx.

As she walks with her patients, Maria dispenses shopping advice, shares recipes, and provides healthy diet tips. On a recent Thursday she was accompanied by Nat Williams of the Bronx, who has prostate cancer. Fighting fatigue and dramatic weight loss, and living on his own, Mr. Williams said he is often so tired that he skips meals entirely because he lacks the energy to prepare something to eat. As he and Maria tasted food samples put out by the market vendors, she explained how high protein and super high-calorie foods will help him achieve his goal to get stronger. "You need small, quick meals and snacks that are easy to make," she said, and together they selected a loaf of freshly baked bread (for peanut butter sandwiches), a sausage, onion and pepper loaf, and a bag of peanut brittle.  They also purchased a bag of peaches after Mr. Williams promised to eat one a day, as well as some tomatoes and a small eggplant.

The support doesn't end there. Dr. Kalnicki and his team of radiation oncology physicians, as well as staff from other hospital departments, are personally supporting Eat Healthy, Shop Smart by making cash donations to help qualifying patients cover the cost of their food purchases. The market vendors, who hail from upstate New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are also doing their part to help by providing a 10 percent discount to all of the patients who participate in the program.

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