Most cancer patients lose weight because they do not eat as much as their body needs during treatment to rebuild normal tissue because of tumor, the effects of surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. When you eat less, your body uses its own stored fat, protein, and other nutrients for energy. Not enough food intake and nutrition intake may cause these problems:
- Loss of lean muscle mass
- Increased susceptibility to infection
- Delayed wound healing
- Lowered tolerance to therapy
- Fatigue and lack of energy
Therefore, you will need to evaluate or have your intake evaluated by a dietitian to determine the adequacy of your calorie, protein, and nutrient intake.
Suggestions to Minimize Weight Loss; Ensure Good Nutrition
- Take advantage of your up times by eating more when you feel well. You may want to prepare meals you can freeze for days when you don't feel like preparing anything.
- Concentrate on the foods that appeal to you and avoid those that don’t.
- Try to eat breakfast. Many cancer patients feel better earlier in the day, and can tolerate a meal when they feel rested.
- Increase the number of times you choose to eat. Small frequent meals are especially helpful if a large meal is unappealing or if you tend to fill up quickly.
- If red meat doesn't taste right, cook chicken, turkey or fish. You may tolerate cold meats better. Other substitutions that are good sources of protein are eggs, dairy products, peanut butter, and cheese.
- Cold foods or foods at room temperature often taste better.
- Salty or tart foods such as cranberry juice, orange juice, pickles, lemon juice and vinegar may enhance flavor.
- Avoid drinking liquids at meals. Limit your intake of non-nutritious beverages like coffee and tea, which add few nutrients but fill you up and reduce your appetite.
- To stimulate your appetite, concentrate on making your meals an enjoyable experience with an attractive setting, good company, varied eating places, and enjoyable music.
- Utilize prepared foods and side dishes sold at your local grocery store to minimize your cooking time and to conserve your energy.
- Stock your refrigerator and pantry with prepared or easy to prepare foods, and foods you are currently able to eat.
Increasing Protein and Calorie Intake
You should eat foods that are high in protein and calories because you may need more than normal amounts during illness, treatment, and recovery. Doctors and researchers have found that cancer patients who maintain their weight and eat well (diets high in protein and calories) during their treatment tolerate side effects of their therapy better.
Adding Protein to Your Diet
- Skim milk powder adds protein. Mix 2 tablespoons of dry skim milk powder per cup of milk (2 tablespoons = 3 grams protein); pour the fortified milk over cold cereal, blend it into hot cereal; add 2 tablespoons per cup of flour to breads or any baked products; add it to scrambled eggs, soups, gravies, ground meat products (meatballs, meatloaf, hamburger), casseroles or desserts.
- Whey protein is another option for adding protein to foods and beverages. The amount of protein may vary by brand.
- Consider using evaporated milk to mix into cream soup, on sauces, macaroni and cheese (2 tablespoons = 2 grams protein).
- Add milk or half-and-half instead of all water for making cereals, instant cocoa, puddings and canned soups or homemade soups or stews.
- Add diced or ground meat to soups and casseroles.
- Add grated cheese or chunks of cheese to sauces, vegetables, soups, salads, omelets and casseroles.
- Add tuna to your vegetable salad or pasta salad.
- Hard cook a few extra eggs for between-meal-eating, for egg salad sandwiches, or addition to vegetable, pasta or potato salad.
- Canned salmon and sardines can conveniently add to your protein intake at or between meals.
- Use peanut butter on crackers or celery, waffles or pancakes, muffins, hot breads and biscuits.
- Add chopped nuts to cereals, cakes, cookies, quick bread recipes, topping for ice- cream or pudding; mix with yogurt or cottage cheese.
Adding Calories to Your Diet
- Just one teaspoon of butter or vegetable oil adds 45 calories. Mix it into hot foods such as soups, vegetables, potatoes, cooked cereal and rice. Serve hot breads. When the butter melts, add more.
- Mayonnaise has 100 calories per tablespoon, almost twice as much as salad dressing (e.g., Miracle Whip®). Use it with salads, eggs and sandwiches.
- Use peanut butter, which has protein and calories (90 calories per tablespoon) to spread on apples, pears, bananas, or celery. Add it to a sandwich with jelly or cream cheese.
- Spread toast with butter, honey or jam. Add butter and cream cheese to bagels. • Butter, sour cream or yogurt can be used to add flavor and calories to cooked vegetables such as potatoes, beans, carrots or squash.
- Sour cream or yogurt is also good as dip for fresh vegetables. Sour cream can be added to gravies.
- Heavy cream (whipping cream) has about 60 calories per tablespoon and can be added to mashed potatoes, pies, fruit, pudding, hot chocolate, gelatin or other desserts.
- Nuts, dried fruits, buttered popcorn, crackers, cheese, granola, milk- shakes, ice cream and popsicles made from juice are good high calorie snacks.
- Add raisins, dates or chopped nuts with brown sugar to hot or cold cereal for a snack.
- Have an evening snack. Try such foods as sandwiches, peanut butter, cold pizza, cheese and crackers, milkshakes or hot chocolate.