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Chemo can make foods taste yucky. St. Jude staff have created special gummies that are delicious, fun and (don't tell the kids) nutritious.
Blending one part science, one part culinary skill and a dash of creativity, staff members at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have solved a common problem for childhood cancer patients.
Chemotherapy, a mainstay of cancer treatment, wreaks havoc on appetite and taste buds. Nausea and painful mouth sores are common—and chemo drugs can cause a metallic aftertaste or may make sweet foods intolerable. With all of these issues surrounding food, patients are less likely to eat. That is unfortunate, because research shows that well-nourished children have a higher ability to withstand infection and tolerate therapy.
This was the conundrum faced by St. Jude dietitians Karen Smith and Kristy Gibbons: How do you entice justifiably picky eaters to eat and get the most nutritional wallop from a meal?
Three years ago, the Clinical Nutrition colleagues began to brainstorm to create the perfect treat—small in portion, fun in shape and color, tart in taste, and most importantly, loaded with nutritional value.
Their first idea was to use gummy worms as a base for the treat, but the gelatin in its original form is high in carbohydrates and resulted in a solid mass that was unappealing.
Smith and Hope Luka, one of the department’s student employees, spent an entire semester creating a tart, gelling product infused with nutrients. Other students in Luka’s Experimental Foods class at the University of Memphis helped with taste-testing.
St. Jude focus groups composed of patients, families and staff volunteered to taste-test the product. Based on that feedback, Smith and Luka finalized the gummy recipe and gave the product a name, Sour Gems.
St. Jude chefs streamlined a system for creating the treats, which were shaped like dragonflies, puppy paws, hearts, guitars and ladybugs. Patients could order their favorite shapes and flavors and have them sent to their bedside in less than an hour.
Sour Gems are packed with calories, protein and fat; a serving of five or six pieces easily provides 250 calories or more, the equivalent of one can of a commercially made liquid supplement.
The treats have been so successful that St. Jude staff members have begun working on a way to increase Sour Gems’ shelf life so that patients can take them home between treatments. More than 100 St. Jude patients have given the new treats their stamp of approval.
St. Jude hopes to have the recipe patented and is now partnering with a company to make Sour Gems widely available.
“We are hoping that this new product will not just benefit our kids, but will eventually be used by people outside of St. Jude: children with cystic fibrosis; geriatric patients; people with dementia,” Smith says. “Anyone who has problems getting enough nutrition would benefit.”
Abridged from Promise, Winter 2014