The Survivor’s Diet

Featured Article, Healthy Cooking Tips, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Special Diets
on June 1, 2014
Zucchini Gratin

When patients call The Cancer Lifeline, a Seattle-based nonprofit devoted to providing emotional support during treatment, they often have a simple question: What do I eat?

Lifeline’s nutrition educator Kimberly Mathai, MS, RD, CDE, has the answer. The author of The Cancer Wellness Cookbook, Mathai aims to help people undergoing treatment make the most of the calories they consume—and take control of an important aspect of their road to recovery. But many of her tips (and her summer-suited recipe below) can and should also be a part of any preventive lifestyle.

1. Choose foods rich in phytochemicals that act as a natural defense system in your body. Among your best bets? Tomatoes, beans, lentils, cabbage, broccoli and tea. Regardless of their cancer-fighting powers, though, don’t force yourself to eat these superfoods if they turn you off during treatment.

2. Flavor dishes with herbs and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric and garlic rank high on the list.

3. During treatment, up your intake of protein, which helps rebuild tissue and fight infection—especially important for weakened immune systems. Focus on plant-based sources like beans and nuts.

4. Fight nausea (and get some extra antioxidants) by making ginger tea from scratch: Chop a 1-inch piece and boil it in 3 cups of water for 20 minutes. Store for up to a day or drink immediately.

Zucchini and Tomato Gratin

Zucchini Gratin


  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • 2 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup white rice
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced 1⁄4 inch thick
  • 4 medium tomatoes, sliced 1⁄2 inch thick
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup grated Asiago cheese


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the oil in an 8-inch square baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Sprinkle the garlic, onion and basil over the oil. Spread the rice over the top. Layer the zucchini and tomato slices over the rice, and pour the boiling water over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and the vegetables and rice are cooked. Serves 4.

Per serving: 198 calories, 8 g fat, 7 g protein, 26 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 50 mg sodium

(c)2014 by Kimberly Mathai. All rights reserved. Excerpted from The Cancer Wellness Cookbook: Smart Nutrition and Delicious Recipes for People Living with Cancer by permission of Sasquatch Books.