During illness, treatment or recovery, your need for calories and protein may be greater than usual. The following suggestions can help increase the number of calories you consume:
- Add butter or oils to foods. Use butter or margarine generously on potatoes, bread, toast, hot cereal, rice, noodles and vegetables and in soups. Put olive oil or another oil on bread, rice, pasta and vegetables.
- Spread peanut butter or other nut butters — which contain protein and healthy fats — on toast, bread, apple or banana slices, crackers, or celery. Dip pretzels in peanut butter.
- Use croissants or biscuits to make sandwiches.
- Add powdered creamer or dry milk powder to hot cocoa, milkshakes, hot cereal, gravy, sauces, meatloaf, cream soups or puddings.
- Add sliced avocado or guacamole to salads and sandwiches.
- Add seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, to salads, stir-fries and casseroles.
- Add ground flaxseeds to yogurt, smoothies, hot cereals and casseroles.
- Top hot cereal with brown sugar, honey, dried fruit, cream or nut butter.
- Top pie, cake, gelatin or pudding with ice cream, whipped cream or cream.
- Use fruit canned in heavy syrup. It has more calories than does fresh or juice-packed fruit. If you prefer fresh fruit, add sugar and cream.
- Drink beverages that contain calories, such as fruit juice, lemonade, fruit-flavored drinks, malts, floats, soda pop, cocoa, milkshakes, smoothies and eggnog. Nutritional supplement drinks are convenient options.
Though some of these suggestions add more fat and sugar to your diet, this shouldn't be a concern since you're only adding the extra calories until you can get your appetite back on track. Check with your doctor or a dietitian if you have concerns about changing the way you eat.
Protein is important for growth, health and repair of your body. If you've been ill, you may need extra protein. Some suggestions include:
- Add extra meat, poultry, fish, cheese or beans (pinto, navy, black, kidney) to casseroles, soups or stews.
- Choose meat salads, such as chicken, ham, turkey or tuna.
- Make your own high-protein milk: Add 1/4 cup powdered milk to 1 cup whole milk, or add 1 cup powdered milk to 1 quart whole milk. Use it as a beverage, add it to malts or shakes, or use it in cooking.
- Try a commercially prepared protein supplement.
If illness has made red meat — beef, pork or lamb — less appealing to you, try the following foods, which also are good sources of protein:
- Cottage cheese
- Nuts and nut butters
- Peanut butter
- Vegetarian burgers
Drinking plenty of fluids also is key to helping your body during treatment. Try to drink at least 64 ounces (2 liters) of fluid a day, unless your doctor has directed you to limit your fluid intake.
Try to choose drinks that contain calories. If sweetened beverages are too sweet, try flavored water or fruit juices diluted with water.
Consider a multivitamin
If your loss of appetite is keeping you from eating well for more than a few days, you might consider taking a multivitamin to help you get the vitamins and minerals you need.
Check the label and look for a multivitamin that doesn't give you more than 100 percent of the Daily Value of all the vitamins and minerals.
Keep in mind, though, that if you're drinking liquid nutritional supplements, those will give you some of the vitamins and minerals you need, so you may not need a multivitamin.
July 23, 2015
See more In-depth
- Eating hints: Before, during and after cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/eating-hints. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.
- Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition/patient. Accessed Jan 5, 2015.
- Nutrition during cancer treatment. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pub_nutrition_cp. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.
- Suggestions for increasing calories and protein. Nutrition Care Manual. American Dietetic Association. http://nutritioncaremanual.org/index.cfm. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.