A Conversation with Dr. Luis Pineda: Chef and Cancer Doctor, Part II

Jan 27, 2015

Dr. Luis Pineda standing at the kitchen counter over freshly diced vegetables.

Dr. Luis Pineda is a hematologist/oncologist, certified chef and founder of Cooking with Cancer, a non-profit organization that develops and distributes tasty recipes to cancer patients to improve their nutrition and quality of life. In part one of our interview with Dr. Pineda, he told us about his organization, his decision to attend Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, and how he develops recipes for his patients. Our conversation with Dr. Pineda continues, with his thoughts on patient outcomes and American food culture.

Can you tell us more about the outcomes you’ve seen with your patients using these recipes?

I should say that my work is not scientifically proven. Most of what I can tell you is basically the result of observations.

But let me give you [an example] of this. Let’s take chili peppers, which are a cornerstone of many of the recipes that I have created. Every cell of your body functions on the basis of an electrical gradient that moves from the outside to the inside. A muscle, for example. Whenever you have calcium and magnesium going in and out, then the muscle contracts and then electricity releases and the muscle has to rest. So, your taste buds, your smell buds function exactly on the same principle.

In cancer patients, those receptors have been injured so they don't have the capacity to respond the same way. Chili peppers come in and basically re-polarize; they reintroduce electricity so that those cells will be better prepared to jump, to release that electricity. That's when you taste and you smell. Not only that but these peppers, according to the variety, have the ability to imbue the pungency at a different level in your mouth.

For example, there are some peppers that you taste more on the front of the tongue. You put a little of the pequin pepper and it will injure the front part. If you go on and you use, for example, habanero pepper would be on the back side of it. So one example of these recipes is if I use habanero pepper in somebody who has taken chemotherapy that has injured the front part of the mouth, then I am stimulating the back that is not injured to taste better. Isn't that beautiful? You think about the thought process of going through that. That's the mechanism of thinking of what the problem is and how ingredients you are going to use work and why you are going to use those ingredients.

What can ordinary people do to change our food culture for the better?

Concept number one is, as much as you can, consume whole grain products. Concept number two is stay away from consumption of excessive amounts of sugars if you can.

Sugar comes to you in many, many, many ways. And please don't misunderstand what I'm saying because I don't pretend to demonize a beautiful product. I think everything in balance is perfectly fine. But whenever you overpower one on top of the other, then that doesn't do well anymore. I think that the cultural problem of the United States is that we overeat the wrong thing and we do not burn the calories that we need to.

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