8 tips to fight cancer-related appetite loss

Patients receiving cancer treatment need to meet their nutritional requirements in order to maintain energy for treatment completion, healing and recovery.

Coping with cancer-related treatments and their side effects, however, can make maintaining good nutrition a challenge for even the most health-conscious patients.

One of the most common side effects during cancer treatment is experiencing loss of appetite, and this loss of appetite is the most common cause of malnutrition, which can delay treatment, lead to hospitalization and poor health outcomes.

Appetite loss can occur for many reasons, including the presence of disease, pain, stress, fatigue, surgery and such side effects of chemo and radiation treatments as nausea, vomiting or change in taste.

Appetite loss can occur during any cancer stage, as well as throughout the duration of treatment. The patient may eat significantly less, does not have a desire to eat or feels full very quickly, resulting in the inability to achieve enough calories throughout the day.

Regardless of the cause or type of appetite loss, it is essential to begin management right away.  Some of the following nutritional tips can help manage or alleviate poor appetite:

  1. Eat five to six small meals throughout the day to avoid feeling too full too quickly.
  2. Keep your favorite foods handy for snacking when you do feel hungry.
  3. Go for a walk to get light exercise to boost your appetite.
  4. Sip your liquids at mealtime and drink more fluids between meals so you don’t fill up early and end up consuming less calories.
  5. Try more nutritionally dense food choices such as peanut butter, nuts, eggs, chicken salad, avocados, cheese, smoothies or milkshakes when it is difficult to eat.
  6. Eat meals in a relaxed environment with family and friends.
  7. Have ready-to-eat or pre-made meals convenient for when your appetite has increased.
  8. Talk to a dietitian for nutrition and meal planning advice.

The following recipe offers calorie-dense and nutritious foods – before, during or after your treatments. Feel free to share it with a friend!

Pink breakfast smoothie

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serves: 2-4


  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 banana
  • ½ cup oats
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. almonds
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup milk (almond, soy, or cow’s)
  • Handful of ice


  1. Combine all ingredients to a blender. Cover with lid and blend until ice is broken up, smooth, and at desired consistency.
  2. Serve and enjoy!

337 calories, 33g carbohydrates, 19g fat, 9g protein, 209mg sodium, 19g sugar

Smoothie recipe retrieved from:


By Guest Blogger, Rachel Flanery, University of Kentucky Dietetics and Human Nutrition student