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Comfort food for cancer patients

Cancer survivor and cookbook author Ann Ogden Gaffney says food can help comfort and heal
"Cook for Your Life": Food helps with getting through cancer 01:44

Cancer treatments can take a toll on a patient's appetite and nutritional needs, but one cancer survivor has cooked up a way to help.

When Ann Ogden Gaffney underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer, she discovered that fellow patients around her were struggling to eat. Cancer treatment can affect the way food tastes and a person's appetite.


Gaffney said she started sharing simple recipes that were comforting -- old-fashioned home cooking -- but healthy. That led to collaborations with an oncology nutritionist and local chefs. Now Gaffney, who has beat cancer twice, has published "Cook for Your Life," a cookbook to help others with cancer create meals that will carry them through the difficult period.

"I was finding that I was getting through my treatment a lot easier than some of the other people because I was cooking and I could adapt to how I was feeling much easier," the 67-year-old former fashion executive told CBS News.

Now ten years into remission, she said she continues to eat healthfully, and she wanted to help others do it, too.

"All this is is really great food that's been organized to help people going through a rotten time," she said about her new book.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), cancer patients should eat mostly fruits and vegetables, limit red meat and avoid processed meat.

"The more natural and whole the food is, the better," said Bridget Bennett, an oncology dietician at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, in New York.

Bennett said the biggest dietary challenge for cancer patients is lack of appetite.

"No matter what, people need adequate calories to maintain their weight and maintain their energy and then they need enough protein to rebuild the tissues that are maybe being compromised during any treatment - chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery," Bennett told CBS News.

Gaffney said "Cook for Your Life" is full of easy recipes that patients and caregivers can customize to suit their tastes.

For instance, Gaffney said, when it comes to concocting a pita pizza, "You can put olives or whatever you want on it."

But not bacon, she laughs.

Limiting red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb to less than 18 ounces per week is recommended by the AICR.

Gaffney's husband Joe -- who took all of the photographs for the book -- enjoys the fringe benefits of her research.

"I just eat and do the dishes," he said.

Eating healthy comfort food can help patients get through the difficult times, said Gaffney. "Silver bullet? No. But for your overall health, overall wellness, and overall chance of surviving? Yeah," she said.

Nutritionists say all of us, not just cancer patients, can benefit from this healthier style of eating, too.

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