There are many reasons people with cancer lose
weight. Causes include depression, fatigue,
pain, altered taste perception, side effects of
treatment, or obstruction of the gastrointestinal
tract. Often consumption of a high calorie, high
protein, beverage may help reverse weight loss.
Psychological distress also can play a major role
in weight loss. The anxiety that comes with
receiving a diagnosis of cancer, the intensified
feelings of anxiety and depression, and the
possibility of pain, all can cause weight loss. Once
a particular psychological issue is addressed, some
of the weight loss may be reversed.
Caregivers should try to serve a variety of
foods, since lots of nutrients from many different
sources are required to meet physical and
nutritional needs. Caregivers can help people with
cancer create a flexible, personalized nutritional
plan that will be easy to adapt to their
ever-changing needs. Following are guidelines to
help create the basis for a sound, nutritional
There are many ways to add calories, and eating
high calorie foods is a good place to start.
Caregivers and people with cancer can enjoy adding
the following to increase calorie intake:
- Melt margarine onto hot foods such as toast,
soups, vegetables, cooked cereals, rice and
- Choose mayonnaise instead of salad dressing
for use in meat salads, in deviled eggs and on
- Serve peanut butter - also high in protein -
with an apple, banana, or pear, or spread it on
a sandwich with mayonnaise.
- Top puddings, pies, hot chocolate, fruit,
gelatin and other desserts with whipped cream.
Cook with heavy cream instead of milk.
- Sprinkle nuts or seeds on vegetables,
salads, and pasta, or sprinkle on desserts such
as fruits, ice cream, pudding and custard.
It can be extremely beneficial for a person with
cancer to receive extra protein, especially if they
are healing after surgery. The following suggestions
will help provide more healing proteins and extra
calories to the diet:
- Add nonfat dry milk or powdered protein
supplements, like soy protein shakes, to regular
milk. Also, they can be added to sauces and
gravies or used for breading meat, fish or
- Cook cereals with milk instead of water.
- Use milk, half-and-half and evaporated milk
when making instant cocoa, canned soups, mashed
potatoes, and puddings.
- Add extra ice cream to milkshakes.
- Add small pieces of meat, fish or poultry to
soups and to vegetable, noodle and rice
- Add grated cheese to cream sauces,
casseroles, or vegetables.
- Melt sliced cheese over hot apple pie.
- Combine cottage cheese and cream cheese with
- Use cream cheese and margarine on hot bread
- Blend finely chopped hard-boiled eggs into
sauces, gravies, chopped meats, or salad
dressings or sprinkle over salads.
Loss of Appetite
Sometimes medical treatments and therapies can
cause a decrease in appetite. Here are some ways
that caregivers can help make favorite dishes
- Try seasonings such as lemon juice, mint, basil
and other herbs and spices to perk up the taste
and smell of food.
- Add sugar and salt to foods, if intake is not
- Serve food attractively and in a pleasing
- Vary the colors of foods on the plate and use
garnishes such as lemon or lime wedges.
- Colorful place settings and soft background
music can help make mealtimes more enjoyable,
- Use a therapeutic nutritional beverage
such to help reverse the metabolic changes that
can affect appetite.
- Walk the dog or take an early-evening stroll
- Light exercise may help stimulate the
- Plan the biggest meal of the day when a
person with cancer is most hungry, even if
thatís early in the day.
- Serve foods a loved one enjoys whenever they
feel like eating, even if itís not a usual meal
Overcoming Vomiting and Nausea
If a person with cancer is vomiting, has nausea,
or feels too full to eat, try these tips:
- Drink liquids an hour before or after eating to keep
from filling up quickly during meals.
- Eat high-carbohydrate foods such as crackers and
toast if troubled by nausea. They move through the
stomach quickly and may be particularly helpful if
eaten first thing in the morning.
- Eat slowly and chew food thoroughly.
- Rest after eating. Activity can slow digestion and
may cause discomfort.
- Food smells cause nausea. Keep a person with cancer
out of the kitchen while meals are prepared; even
have them leave the house, if possible. Cold foods
tend to have fewer odors, so try serving more dairy
products, chicken or tuna salad sandwiches, cold
soups and cool desserts with fruit.
Taste and Smell
Some therapies and treatments can
change the way food tastes and smells. Here are some
tips that may help alleviate these symptoms:
- Serve food cold or at room temperature to decrease
its smell and taste.
- Choose foods that provide texture and crunch to help
give a real sense of eating that is not provided by
soft, bland foods.
- Use seasonings and condiments such as salt, lemon
juice, catsup, pickles and olives that donít rely on
smell to enhance food.
- Avoid the area where food is being prepared, as
odors may increase the chance for nausea.
- Eat several small meals during the day rather than
three large ones.
Soothing Mouths and Throats
Some treatments can make mouths and throats
uncomfortable, dry and sore. Here are some tips that
may help to eliminate some of these problems:
- Try moist and liquid foods such as soups and stews.
They may be easier to chew and swallow.
- Try soft, cold foods such as ice cream, frozen
fruit-juice bars, watermelon and grapes. They may
feel and taste better than other foods.
- Drink through a straw to make swallowing easier.
- Avoid using spices.
- Avoid carbonated beverages and highly acidic foods,
like citrus juices and tomatoes.
- Try fruit juices such as apple and nectar
Caregivers have an opportunity to play an
active role in helping people with cancer. By
understanding the importance of nutrition in the
treatment of cancer, and applying useful strategies
and tips, caregivers can help people with cancer
regain weight and reclaim quality of life.
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