News and Tribune

March 28, 2013

It’s in the blood: Aaron McCargo, a cooking show host, gives recipes for dialysis patients


JEFFERSONVILLE — Spiced honey-glazed pork chops, taco chicken pizza and blackened salmon with tarragon blue cheese all made it to the menu when a Food Network Chef visited Jeffersonville on Wednesday.

But the extravagant fare cooked up by Aaron McCargo Jr., host of “Big Daddy’s House,” had a very specialized audience — dialysis patients. McCargo visited Fresenius Medical Care and showed patients how they could eat flavorful food in spite of their dietary restrictions.

“I would be lying to say that any chef could take this as a simple challenge, especially when you’re talking about eliminating so many go-to ingredients,” McCargo said. “These are very serious matters when it comes to these people. You can’t just deal with what they can’t have — it’s also all about portion control.”

McCargo worked with Fresenius’ national office to develop recipes that were simple, affordable and enjoyable for patients and their families. Leaving out ingredients like peanuts, beans, tomatoes and oranges while considering phosphorus and potassium content was difficult, he said, but a challenge he was happy to take on.

But McCargo said another problem was sodium, which is used as a flavoring agent in all kinds of foods. To keep the food flavorful, he said substituting with other flavors helps patients forget about salt altogether.

“There are so many things you can reach out for as a chef, but when you have these restrictions, you go back to the basics with spices and herbs,” McCargo said.

Julie Mulcahy, a dietitian at Fresenius, said making the diet changes necessary as a patient with renal disease is daunting, but McCargo’s specialized recipes help them make adjustment while enjoying what they’re eating.

“He’s promoting the use of spices and herbs to bring in bold flavors to discourage our dependence on salt,” Mulcahy said. “Another thing he’s doing instead of eliminating food categories is limiting them and using cheese and nuts as garnishes.”

She said while it’s unreasonable to tell patients to completely cut some of those foods out of their diet, his recipes show how they can use them in moderation.

Debra Brooks-Redd is a patient at Fresenius. She said the pasta salad samples from McCargo’s recipes were something she liked and wants to know more about what she can use in her kitchen to match her diet.

“I’m very happy that he took the offer from Fresenius to do this because it is a challenge to learn to change your diet and change it a lot,” Brooks-Redd said. “Like the other patients, I’d like him to list the spices we can use because I’ve got a cabinet full of them.”

Mulcahy said processed foods use a lot of phosphorus as coloring and flavoring agents, so giving renal patients recipes to follow could really help them.

Myra Hohenstein, a registered nurse at Fresenius, said hearing from a chef about what patients can eat could lift their spirits about their diets.

“I’m so excited that they get to see someone without these problems has come in and shown an interest,” Hohenstein said. “The families aren’t really going to know that these recipes are for specialized diets.”

McCargo said the recipes can also help people with other dietary restrictions, but might need to be modified with guidance of a professional dietitian. But he said with every clinic he visits, he gets ideas from patients about what he might be able to add to the list of recipes and come up with regional dishes.

McCargo said helping people find food they can enjoy makes him feel good.

“When I go from clinic to clinic, if it’s just one person that looks at me and smiles or asks a question, I feel like that’s what makes my day,” McCargo said. “Just knowing that patients are engaged in the conversation makes me feel like I’ve done my job.”