A few weeks ago, I wrote a little about nutrition for the patient with cancer and diabetes, but I think it is important to talk a little more about what that means for patients specifically. Not only is nutrition an important part of the treatment plan for patients with both diagnoses, but often, it is the one aspect of their care they have the most control over.

Unfortunately, nutrition can take a back seat to medically managed problems when patients are seen in the clinic and savvy patients are quick to browse the internet emerging with variable degrees of reliable information.

A quality diabetic diet and cancer diet are fortunately not entirely too different. You can reassure your patients that when things are going reasonably well (i.e., treatment-related symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomatitis are controlled) that a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains with moderate amounts of meat and dairy is a sound choice. Livestrong offers some additional information on macronutrient intake specific to diabetes and cancer, and the American Diabetes Association offers two methods of utilizing diet to control blood sugars: Create Your Plate and Carbohydrate Counting, which offer different approaches to customization.

Nurses can teach these things, but it can sometimes be a challenge to compete with flavanoids, antioxidants, and whichever micronutrient is currently in the media spotlight. I offer you some healthy competition.

This summer, I had the rare pleasure to assist Chef Rhonda Clark as she taught a class on cooking and diabetes at the Cancer Support Community in Cincinnati, OH. She was kind enough to grant me permission to share one of her recipes with you and your patients. This one has it all—whole grains, fresh vegetables, and low glycemic content. It smells heavenly on the stove, is perfect for fall, and supports nutritional health. (Thank you so much, Chef!) Barley with Leeks and Fennel

  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • leeks, white and pale green, chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb (shown above), finely chopped
  • 10 ounces pearl barley
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1 pinch saffron (optional)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese
  • 1 ounce basil, fresh, chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme, fresh, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs pine nuts, toasted

Directions: Add the oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, sauté the leeks and fennel for eight minutes or until tender.

Stir in the barley, stock, and saffron and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer 45 minutes or until barley is tender.

Stir in cheese, most of the basil, and thyme. Season to taste.

Garnish with basil and pine nuts and serve.

Reheating Instructions: If necessary, sprinkle pilaf with a bit of water before heating. Microwave loosely covered for 1–2 minutes, or until hot throughout, stirring occasionally to distribute heat.