Nourishing well-being

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Founder of Savor Health provides cancer patients with the nutrition they need


  • Susan Bratton founded Savor Health to provide better nutrution for cancer patients. Photo: Peter Hurley


When Susan Bratton’s friend Eric was diagnosed with cancer, he was told nutrition was irrelevant and he could eat whatever he wanted. Having a background on Wall Street in healthcare, the Midtown resident had her doubts, so she did some research and found that nutrition did, in fact, matter for cancer patients. “Up to 80 percent of cancer patients experience nutritional issues. A third of all cancer deaths are due to severe malnutrition. And malnutrition is the number two secondary diagnosis in cancer patients,” she explained.

In 2011, Bratton quit her job and two weeks later, started Savor Health with the help of doctors, nurses and oncology dieticians. The company provides nutritional counseling as well as a food delivery service that’s tailored to meet the specific needs of its clients. They take into account pre-existing health conditions, allergies and side effects as well as drug regimens.

Tell us how your friend Eric’s cancer inspired you to start Savor Health.

When he was diagnosed, from the beginning, he was told nutrition didn’t matter and to eat whatever he wanted. And I was really struck by that, because granted, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 18. ... So I came at this very much from the perspective that I’m a super healthy, clean eater. And it just struck me that that didn’t make very much sense. And it certainly blew in the face of everything I had ever read or believed in. But I had been a healthcare investment banker, so was experienced in the healthcare world. I knew that evidence-based literature is how we practice medicine. So I actually went to the evidence-based literature to just kind of understand why he was being told that. And what I came away with was, in fact, that his experience wasn’t the exception, but it was the rule. And they’re being told that it doesn’t matter and they go to the internet and are all completely overwhelmed because if you type in “cancer nutrition” or “nutrition for cancer patients,” you get 200 million hits or something crazy like that. And so I said I wanted to start a company that helps people like my friend Eric because I watched him really kind of wither away over the five months from the point he was diagnosed until he died. And the issues that he was experiencing were around nutrition. He was losing a lot of weight and had mouth sores, so it was painful to eat and it was scary because he also had a hard time swallowing, so he was afraid that he was going to asphyxiate himself. So all this was around the nutritional issues and because of where his tumor was as well. So I just felt like somebody needed to do something about this problem that was obviously a big one.

What foods are cancer fighting and does it change based on the type of cancer and the anti-cancer drugs they are on?

What’s interesting is there’s not a breast cancer diet or a prostate cancer diet, per se. It’s more about eating healthy, the principles of the Mediterranean diet, eating clean, lean proteins, grains, legumes, lots of fruits and vegetables. And then the way it works to actually make it appropriate for the patient is, you customize it around the side effects that they’re experiencing. So, for example, take Eric who had mouth sores. Our recommendations would be he get softer consistency food, no spicy food, things like that. Somebody who has diarrhea is going to get food that is high residue, things that counteract it. There are certain foods that interact with drugs that you have to know about, but by and large, it’s more about making sure that they get the right amount of protein, calories and nutrients in a format that’s designed around what they’re actually experiencing. Because you can have two breast cancer patients who have the same treatment and they can still have different side effect profiles. So it really needs to be customized to what they’re experiencing. And also what they like to eat and what their food allergies are. Because again, if the goal is to get them to eat healthy, you also need to know what it is they like to eat.

My sister is a cancer researcher and wanted to know what kind of food patients like most when they’re undergoing chemotherapy.

I think most people, when they’re going through cancer, go back to, what I would call, their comfort foods. And everybody’s comfort food is different, depending on your culture and how you grow up. But there’s this kind of feeling of wanting to go to the stuff that made them feel good when they were growing up. For somebody it could be mac and cheese and so, Jessica Iannotta [Savor’s COO] and I wrote “The Meals to Heal Cookbook” and we have a really healthy mac and cheese in there that has lots of broccoli and things like that, so they get not just the cheese and the fat, but actually something that’s more healthy.

Tell us some memorable stories about your patients.

Gosh, there’s so many. Daniel’s a Navy SEAL. He’s about 35 years old. Diagnosed with cancer. He basically has said that he believes this has helped him get through the multiple treatments that he’s on. But what he does that just makes me smile every time he sends us an email is, he sends us all of his lab results, but he also has dogs because he’s part of a canine group. And he also sends us pictures of his dogs. And we’re helping him live that life that he wants to live. And I just recently interviewed him, but haven’t put the video up yet. He lives in San Diego. And it was just so rewarding to meet somebody that you’ve helped. And who’s with us for two-and-a-half years, so he really feels like this helped him out and that makes me happy. And then there’s another guy we had who unfortunately had a very severe brain tumor and didn’t make it, but he was with us for a year and a half, and his mother actually called me after he passed away and said, “We wanted to let you know that he passed away, but we really believe that your meals and your service kept him alive longer than he ever would have been because he looked so forward to getting your meals every week.”

What kind of medical evidence is there for your approach?

There’s the evidence that shows that nutrition intervention can reverse weight loss and improve mortality and morbidity rates. There’s research that shows that when patients are well nourished and receive nutritional intervention, that their hospital readmissions are 54 percent lower and their length of stay is two days shorter. So it’s keeping them out of the hospital is the point. There’s also a lot of evidence that shows that patients who are well nourished adhere better to treatment, have fewer complication rates, less treatment toxicity and less treatment suspension. All of which impact how well a drug works while the patient is on it, not to mention their quality of life. So there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that nutrition matters. Not that nutrition will cure cancer, but nutrition will help strengthen the patient so that they can fight cancer and have better outcomes.

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