/ by Sean O'Nan, MS, RD, LD
Written by Sean O'Nan, a registered dietitian at UK Markey Cancer Center.
As many cancer patients will tell you, their diagnosis and treatment can be physically taxing on their bodies. Simple tasks such as eating meals and snacks may become increasingly difficult as side effects from treatment begin to affect their appetite and senses of taste and smell.
During treatment, a patient’s body weight can be a good indicator for the medical team in determining if their body is getting enough calories to help fuel its normal functions. To help maintain a healthy weight, patients often try to increase the amount of food they are eating at home, but this does not work for all patients. Eating large volumes of food may be overwhelming or unrealistic for some patients given how they feel after treatment. It may be helpful to focus on choosing more nutrient-dense foods and drinks (think higher calories) to help keep their weight stable.
Below are three ways patients can add extra calories and protein to their diets without eating extra portions.
- Fortify your foods!
- Add a scoop of peanut butter to milkshakes or add with apple slices for some added protein.
- Try new additions to your sandwiches! Toppings such as extra slices of cheese, salad dressings, oils, and others can become flavorful additions.
- Consider switching from broth-based soups (ex. chicken noodle, vegetable, Italian wedding, etc), to a creamier alternative. You can also try adding heavy cream, milk, or cheese to your favorite’s broth-based soup for a boost of calories and protein.
- Re-train your brain.
- We have been taught to look for “healthy options” when grocery shopping, which often translates to low- or reduced-fat items. Consider using the “regular” versions of these foods/drinks to add back some calories and improve taste. Switching from plain, low-fat yogurt to Greek yogurt is a simple change that will not only improve the nutrition in your dish but can also help provide a new texture in your diet.
- Consider liquids instead of solid foods.
- When you are struggling to consume enough calories, it may be easier to sip on a drink in between meals. Nutrition supplements such as Boost, Ensure, etc. are helpful alternatives that will provide calories, protein, and a blend of vitamin and minerals your body need to continue working properly.
- Another option would be to make your favorite smoothies and milkshakes at home – this will allow you to tailor the ingredients to your specific flavor preferences.