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Nutrition Spotlight: Dr. Veronica McLymont – Part 1

by Elaine Guinan on March 6, 2017

Dr. Veronica McLymont is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist specializing in oncology nutrition. She is currently the Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, noted for its innovative approach to serving the nutritional needs of cancer patients. Dr. McLymont is the author of a chapter on “Nutrition Care of the Cancer Patient” in a Cancer Rehabilitation text book, and has co-authored several research articles.  For National Nutrition Month, we spoke with Dr. McLymont about her extensive career in the field of nutrition and oncology.

Dr Veronica McLymont - cook for your lifeHow did you become interested in nutrition?

During my final semester in high school in Jamaica West Indies, my teacher invited the only dietitian in my hometown to speak with my class about careers.  She was a beacon of light for me.  Coming from a small town, I’d never heard about what dietitians do, and she made me curious enough to pursue a career in dietetics.
In my first job as a clinical dietitian, I worked diligently and exceeded my quota for assessments. My boss noticed and reassigned me to the outpatient clinic, where I worked independently.  Networking with physicians and nurses in the clinic established me as the nutrition expert.

Now, many years later, as the Director of Food and Nutrition Services, my team and I focus on meeting the unique nutrition needs of our oncology patients. Cancer and its therapies can alter nutritional status and compromise patient outcomes. To help meet these needs, patients are catered to and served room service style, where they can call us to place their meal order when they are ready to eat.

You’ve authored a chapter on “nutrition for the cancer patient,” what are the most common issues you find that cancer patients struggle with?

Cancer itself, and cancer treatments including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and medications often impede a cancer patient’s ability and desire to eat. Patients may have unplanned weight loss, constipation, diarrhea, dysphagia (difficulty chewing and or swallowing foods and liquids of certain consistency), and fatigue.  Some patients experience early satiety where they get full quickly and don’t eat enough. Patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, and altered taste and smell, where the food tastes bland or metallic. They may also experience dry mouth, which is associated with a change in the make up of their saliva, or reduced flow of their saliva.

What are the most common myths you hear about diet and cancer?

Do you believe in superfoods?

The term superfoods imply that the food is rich in one or more nutrients and is uniquely beneficial for health and well-being. I do not have a problem with the term, but I much prefer reference to “nutrient dense” foods, meaning that the food is loaded with nutrients.  For example, superfood is used to describe blueberries, yet there are other foods that are equally or more diverse in their nutrient profile that are beneficial to health and well being. Acai berry for example, is touted as a superfood because it said to have the highest antioxidant power of any food.  It is also rich in polyunsaturated fats (good fats) and high in sugar, making it higher in calories than most fruits. Too much of any nutrient does not mean that you will derive a maximum amount of benefit. In many cases, the body will store excess, as in the case of sugar or calories, or simply get rid of it as in the case of too much vitamin C. To improve your health and well-being, it is therefore important to eat a balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables and fiber, with lean protein and healthy fats.

What is your opinion of using dietary supplements during treatment or in survivorship to prevent or reduce risk of cancer?

Such individuals must talk to their healthcare professional or team before using any herbal or botanical home remedies or other dietary supplements during treatment. These can stop their treatment from working effectively. Individuals should avoid using any vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements during treatment, unless their doctor approves. There is no scientific evidence that dietary supplements or herbal remedies can cure cancer or stop it from coming back.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with Dr. McLymont, where we get her best tips on dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment. 

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