5 tips to help cancer patients eat enough calories

Good nutrition is important, especially if you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Cancer treatment can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite and taste changes. Experiencing any or all of these side effects can make it a challenge to eat at a time when your body needs all the nutrition it can get and when weight maintenance is a priority.

It is important to be mindful of your food choices to make sure you’re consuming enough calories. Here are five ways to keep calories up and manage treatment side effects, even if you don’t feel much like eating.

1. Eat frequent meals.

If you are not able to eat full meals, try to eat five to six small meals and snacks instead of three main meals. Take advantage of times of the day when you feel the hungriest, and keep snacks nearby when you feel like eating. If you do not feel hungry often, eat when it is normally time to eat. To avoid going long periods of time without eating, schedule meal periods so that you do not skip meals by mistake.

2. Emphasize calories and protein.

Eat foods that you can tolerate best and avoid the foods that you cannot. Try to include a protein source every time you sit down to eat. Foods that are high in calories and protein include: eggs, nuts/nut butters, lean meats (chicken, turkey and fish), beans and seeds. Eating these foods even in small amounts can add some nutritional benefit.

3. Fortify foods.

Adding dry milk powder, cream, butter, cheese, sauces, salad dressings and gravies to foods can give an extra calorie and protein boost to your meals. Add these extras to foods like baked potatoes, baked/broiled meats and eggs.

4. Drink your calories.

When solid foods are not as tolerable, consider full-liquid foods like soups, smoothies and milkshakes. Often times, these can provide calories and protein without making you feel sick or overloaded. Other examples of liquid foods include oatmeal, grits, fruit juices, vegetable juice, gelatin, puddings and yogurt.

5. Consider nutrition supplement drinks.

Drinking a nutrition supplement drink can be another good way of drinking your meal as well as a means of getting extra calories and protein. Typical drinks include Ensure, Boost or Carnation Breakfast Essentials. These are all available at your local grocery store. These drinks can be blended with frozen fruit or peanut butter to pack more calories and nutrients. The “Plus” versions of these drinks offer an extra amount or protein and calories if needed. Before starting any nutrition supplement drinks, talk to your dietitian or physician for recommendations.

Next steps: