Thanks to Nestle for sponsoring this post and for their support of Cancer Services! Their sponsorship will support our educational programs for survivors.
Sometimes cancer treatment can result in poor appetite, difficulty eating or challenges with digesting food. Not getting enough nutrition can result in the following:
- Weight loss
- Muscle loss
- Muscle weakness
- Low energy
- Easily fatigued
- Delayed healing
It’s important to be sure that you are getting enough calories and protein to prevent this loss. One of the best ways to know if you’re not eating enough is the scale. Also, pay attention to your body. If you notice changes in your strength or your clothes fitting differently, that can be a sign of a change in your body composition (decrease in muscle, increase in fat mass).
Optimize your nutrition despite these challenges by getting creative with food!
3 Tips for When Eating is Hard.
- ENERGY: To maximize calories, choose foods high in healthy fats like avocados, nut based foods and oils. Making smoothies or other blended foods can help make your nutrients easy to swallow. You can also add calories and protein with nutrition supplement products, like Boost and Benecalorie (more on that below!).
- APPETITE: Eat on a schedule. Even if it’s small, have a meal within 1 hour of waking and every 2 hours after that. Most importantly, don’t skip meals! Set a timer, if needed.
- FOOD CHOICE: Try not to get overly concerned with the quality of the foods you eat. If all you feel like is having is a milkshake, your body will use it! During this season of treatment and recovery, remember that food is only one aspect of your wellness. Having something to eat is much better for you than having nothing to eat!
Talk to your treatment team about how many calories and protein you need during your time of treatment and recovery.
Tips for Using Nutrition Supplements
If you are needing to increase your calories and protein, nutrition supplements can come in handy. Most people know about the drinks, like Boost. Getting nutrition from a can, or bottle, is sometimes your best option. Try these tips for helping it taste better!
- Drink it cold. Refrigerate the bottle before you serve it.
- Pour it over ice. A lot of ice! Fill a large cup or water bottle completely full of ice and then pour the refrigerated drink over it.
- Use a lid, and a straw. During treatment, smells can bother some people. Be sure to put a lid on the cup or water bottle and use a straw. A travel coffee cup can work well, and put a straw through the drinking spout.
Benecalorie – a non-sugary way to add calories and protein!
Another great option for adding calories and protein to your day is by using Benecalorie. This product, made by Nestle (who also makes Boost), adds 330 calories and 7g of protein to any food you put it in.
Since many of my clients are tired of all the sweet drinks and desserts that add calories and protein, Benecalorie is a great alternative for them. And of course, if you’re not tired of the sweet option, you can use it in sweet recipes too!
Benecalorie is best added to creamed soups (like clam chowder or cream of mushroom), mashed potatoes or hot cereals (grits, cream of wheat or oatmeal). Nestle has some recipes on their site that you can check out here: BENECALORIE RECIPES
I actually decided to try Benecalorie in their scrambled egg recipe and I couldn’t tell by taste that it was there. Prior to adding it to your food, you will need to shake it really really well to get all the protein mixed in adequately.
You can tell in my picture that it looks just like regular scrambled eggs! By using 2 eggs, the Benecalorie and cheese, the total calories was close to 600 calories and 27g of protein. Pretty good!
For more ideas on dealing with nutrition related side effects, check out my side effect tip page here:
Nutrition Tips for Combating Cancer Side Effects
If you have any questions or suggestions on getting nutrition when you don’t feel like eating, let me know!
Hi, Julie! Fellow RD here and I enjoy following your website. Just wanted to give a shoutout to Unjury whey protein powder which is available in a “chicken soup” flavor that is actually also vegetarian. It’s nice for when people have sweetness fatigue with the usual supplements, like you mentioned above. You can drink it like a broth, or mix into foods like mashed potatoes or rice. You’re probably already familiar with this product, but just wanted to mention it just in case. I’m on maternity leave from work at the moment and I can’t swear to the exact figures, but I believe it’s about 100kcal and 20g protein per packet which you mix with about 8 oz fluid.
Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN says
Great tip!! Any ‘non sweet’ options are so helpful!
Also – congrats on the baby. 😀
Wanda Morrison says
When I was taking Chemo for Breast Cancer, I ate a baked sweet potato every day with a little honey , butter and cinnamon. I found that it helped with my weakness. Thank God, I didn’t have nausea. Now, when I am weak, I eat a sweet potato. When I had radiation, the silver cream did not work for me, it irritated my skin so the Aquaphor Oinment healed my chest very good. I was burned pretty bad but the Aquaphor was a life saver(highly recommend).
alice goodson says
77 year old cancer patient….4 years ago had head and neck surgery
lost weight due to no taste…cant seem to gain weight
My Husband died the same time I started this journey..Im on my own
any help appreciated