Search in All Title Contents

Madrid, 13 December 2023. - On the sixth anniversary of the launch of the El Sabor Perdido research project, the MD Anderson Cancer Center Spain Foundation will hold the 1st El Sabor Perdido Open Day entitled From the Laboratory to the Table.  This event, directed by the doctors Pilar López Criado and Pedro Robledo, chief researchers, presented a project summary starting with the scientific background before addressing the social aspect. Specifically, El Sabor Perdido focuses on improving the quality of life for cancer patients who lose or experience changes in their sense of taste and flavour after chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or immunotherapy treatment.   

El Sabor Perdido is a pioneering initiative promoted by the MD Anderson Spain Foundation in collaboration with the chef Ramón Freixa, which was launched with the aim of improving the quality of life for patients and preventing malnutrition. This issue has been one of the major challenges associated with oncology treatments. For the first time, science and gastronomy have combined with a common objective in the hands of culinary professionals. After understanding the problem patients suffer, the aim was to present solutions backed by scientific study to show how a few small adjustments in the kitchen can improve the quality of life.

We are attempting to answer such questions as what method of cooking will most benefit the patients, how we can improve salivation stimulus when a person needs it, how poor diet can affect toxicity and response to treatments or how these problems impact on the patient and their family”, explains Dr. Pilar López Criado, Head of the Lung, Head & Neck and Melanoma Department at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid. “In addition, we aim to demonstrate how alterations in patient nutrition prior, during and subsequent to treatments may affect their effectiveness and any resultant toxicity”, he added.

Scientific study of the alterations in taste and smell among cancer patients

The first part of El Sabor Perdido studied the impact of treatment on taste and the changes in nutrition and attempted to provide some simple ideas for daily eating habits. With this in mind, various renowned chefs presented recipes involving changes to culinary techniques and ingredients designed to improve the sensory experience of patients, given that changes to taste and smell are a frequent secondary effect of chemotherapy that affects approximately half of them1.

For this section of the program focusing on nutritional and social issues, meetings were arranged with expert chefs in order to identify which culinary ingredients might improve the most incapacitating sensory alterations, which are generally related to smell and taste. With this in mind, the cooking professionals proposed specific changes to the products and temperatures to provide appetizing and stimulating dishes to address this change, thereby improving the mealtime experience for patients who are facing a situation where everything tastes similar or has a cardboard or metallic flavour.    

Over time, additional teams of chefs have joined the project, including members of the Miniature Pintxos Congress, while recently a partnership was formalised with the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria and the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Madrid Cookery School.

“El Sabor Perdido is founded on a close collaboration between science and gastronomy. On the one hand, we focus on scientific study to understand what is happening, how to address it and how we have reached these conclusions; on the other, we produce menus based on scientific concepts.  As the project has advanced, it has enabled us to suggest modifications to food preparation methods, from a snack to a full meal, and this has simultaneously helped us to identify the causes for these alterations in search of solutions”, explained Dr. Pedro Robledo, Head of the Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics department at MD Anderson Madrid Cancer Center.

The Nutritional expert went on to explain how, as part of the same study, analyses were performed on oral microbiota along with assessments of the nutritional habits and social and psychological situations of the patients and their families, in order to understand these constraining secondary effects and look for remedies. 

Design for the 1st Scientific Open Day of El Sabor Perdido

The 1st Scientific Open Day of El Sabor Perdido, organised in collaboration with the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Madrid school of haute cuisine, included a full program with discussions on the importance of food and proper nutrition to stimulate taste and smell, a healthy diet for cancer prevention and alterations in the function of the mouth in relation to swallowing.   

“The cornerstones of good health are emotional stability, physical exercise and, of course, a healthy diet”,  explained Dr. José María Escudero, lecturer on the Human Nutrition and Dietetics course at the Universidad Francisco de Vitoria during his presentation on Nutrition for the Prevention of Cancer.  

The toxicity deriving from cancer treatment was one of the main topics at the event, which covered the functional clinical aspects and complexity of oncological treatment within the nutritional sphere. As Dr. López Criado explained, the difficulty in eating patients experience because of problems with taste or a dry mouth due to chemotherapy inspired the project. “However, cancer treatments are now more complex, which is why we want to demonstrate that toxicities can affect nutrition and to discover which are the most frequent examples”, clarified the oncologist.

A loss of sensitivity to variations in the taste and aroma of food is a side effect of treatment that has previously been undervalued as it was considered temporary, according to Pedro Robledo. “However it can lead to a patient gradually reducing their calorific intake or directly neglecting to eat. If we study this problem and deal with it in time, we can prevent this from happening”, added the expert.

From the laboratory to the kitchen table, was the title for the final section of the day. This included participation from Erwan Poudoulec, Head Chef and Technical Director at Le Cordon Bleu Madrid, who maintained that “in order to rediscover that Lost Flavour, we also need to develop a taste for cooking and learn the basic skills for preparing these recipes.  For cooking to be healthy we also need to understand the techniques”.