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Cancer Nutrition Consortium

What should I eat to get enough calories during treatment?

Question

I need to combat weight loss during chemo, and have been told that I should eat high-calorie foods. But I'm concerned about the healthiness of some suggestions, like milkshakes and fast food. Should I be?

Answer

Adequate calories help to keep energy level up and body processes running smoothly. Eating enough will help to prevent weight loss during healing, spare protein for other uses, and promote faster recovery with fewer infections and/or complications.

Getting enough calories is paramount. But you are correct to be concerned about where those calories come from. Foods like butter, cream cheese, cheese, simple sweets and dressings will add calories and contribute to weight gain. These foods, however, are not as heart healthy or nutrient-dense as those listed below.

Nuts/seeds: eat as a snack; add chopped ground nuts to breads, baked goods, salads, pancakes, cereal, and ice cream/frozen yogurt. (Check with your doctor to make sure nuts are okay for you.)

Peanut/Almond/Cashew butter: spread on grains, baked goods, fruit, or veggies

Dried fruit/Trail Mix/Granola: eat as a snack; add to desserts, cereal, fruit-cups, & pancakes. (Check with your doctor to make sure these foods are okay for you.)

Avocado: make guacamole; put slices of avocado on sandwiches or salads

Beans: add to salads or entrees; mix into soups; combine with cheese to make nachos

Bean dips/Hummus: use as a veggie dip; add to nachos or baked potatoes; dip pita bread or tortilla chips

Eggs: add chopped hard-boiled eggs to salads, dressings, casseroles and other entrees; beat eggs into mashed potatoes, veggie purees and sauces; add to custards, pudding, baked goods or breakfast foods; fry or cook alone for a meal

Oil: olive and canola; use when stir frying; use as a dip for bread; add to pasta or rice; cook all foods in oil; use as salad dressing; add to cake or bread mixes; make pesto sauce

Flaxseed Oil: add to flavored yogurts and frappes; mix in with salad dressings

Some dietary restrictions may limit your consumption of certain categories—an individual consultation by a dietitian can help you determine this.

Note that these are general recommendations and not medical advice. We highly recommend that individuals meet with the registered dietitian at the hospital where they are cared for to receive individualized nutrition assessment and recommendations, since many cancer patients have additional needs, to ensure the optimal nutrition support.