This post includes some suggestions of Healthy Calorie Boosting Ingredients For Cancer Patients that need to gain weight during cancer treatment. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight during cancer treatment. For some, keeping weight on can be a real challenge, especially when faced with side effects from treatment that impact appetite or the ability to eat.
Although eating a high fat, high calorie diet might sound counterintuitive to a healthy diet, it can helpful and necessary for someone who needs to gain weight.
Healthy Calorie Boosting Ingredients
I’ve been cooking for cancer patients since 2002, but it wasn’t until recently, that I started calculating the number of calories I was preparing for each meal. In cases where the cancer patient needs to gain weight, it makes sense to have a meal plan that counts calories to make sure they’re getting enough calories/day.
Cancer patients that can tolerate dairy might use heavy cream, cheese or full fat dairy products to help boost calories in soups and smoothies. However, if the cancer patient is dairy-intolerant or if dairy causes uncomfortable issues (e.g., phlegm), nut and seed milks are nice alternatives. The key is to use high fat nuts/seeds such as macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews.
Additional ingredients that can be used to add healthy calories to meals include:
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Coconut Milk (full fat)
Cancer patients also often need more protein than usual to heal tissues and help fight infection. Some good sources of calories and protein include:
- Nuts/Seeds, Nut/Seed Milks Nut/Seed Butters (in order from most number of calories to least: macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds (tahini), sunflower, cashews, pistachios, pecans, almonds, walnuts)
- Chicken Breast
- Protein Powder (grass-fed whey or organic plant-based)
These ingredients can all be blended into smoothies and pureed soups to increase calories, which are often easier to eat for cancer patients who have mouth sores or difficulty chewing or swallowing.
How To Modify Recipes To Increase Calories Healthily
When choosing recipes, I find it helpful to first calculate the calories for the recipe as is. If the calories/serving isn’t enough, then I start adding calorie boosting ingredients to the recipe until I reach the targeted calorie count/serving. The cancer patient’s nutritionist should be able to tell them how many calories they should be consuming each day.
For example, if a soup recipe needs to have at least 500 calories/serving, but has only 300 calories/serving, I might add an extra tablespoon of olive oil, coconut milk or cream, and blend in a few hard boiled eggs or some chicken breast. If a smoothie needs to have at least 700 calories/serving but has only 400 calories/serving, I might add a combination of two or more of these ingredients ~ coconut oil, coconut cream, flaxseeds, a plant-based protein powder, macadamia nuts.
If you know someone going through cancer treatment that needs to gain weight, I encourage you to try some of these tips and come up with a delicious meal for your friend.
Thank you for what you do. Do you have a book published?
Hi Anita – I hope you find some of the information helpful. I do not have a book, but would be interested in hearing what you think would be helpful to include if I did publish a book in the future.
Sandy Pate says
I am making soup for my aunt who is undergoing treatment a second time for breast cancer. I am going to try some of your suggestions such as high fat nuts and bean protein. My question is,what foods are easier for nausea and lack of appetite. Does ginger help? How about roasted sweet potatos? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I will be canning the soup(s) so my uncle can reheat the food in the microwave. Thanks so much.
Hi Sandy, generally speaking, my experience is that foods that are strong flavored, or have a strong smell don’t work well. Mild, bland foods work better. Ginger is good for nausea. Roasted sweet potatoes are great – maybe make this into a pureed soup with either lentils or nuts blended in. I usually provide extra broth so the cancer patient can thin the soup to their desired consistency.
Sandy Pate says
I am making my Aunt Kitty some soups while she is undergoing her second treatment for breast cancer. My question is this…what ingredients are easy on the body when fighting nausea and lack of appetite? I will incorporate many of your suggestions such as nuts with high fat content as well as beans for protein. Are acorn squash or sweet potatoes good soup ingredients and what about ginger and turmeric? What about pumpkin? Is chicken stock better than vegetable stock. I plan to can the soup(s) so my uncle can easily heat them stovetop or microwave. Any suggestions from you are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Thank you so much for this post! Doctors and dietitians are always telling patients with cancer to “eat whatever you want, you need calories.” So not true! If you want to beat it, you have to also eat right. It’s unbelievable to me that they don’t teach more on this. Thank you again!
Hi Erin – I’m glad you found this post helpful. In my experience, oftentimes, patients are given vague instructions on what they can or cannot eat. Translating that into practical day-to-day recipes and meals is sometimes challenging.
I’m happy I found very useful information on how to gain weight vs lose weight weight. There are so many brands of Coconut Oil on the market. Which would you recommend as the healthiest?
Glad you found this useful. I look for coconut oil that is virgin, unrefined, organic coconut oil. This tends to be less processed than other coconut oil. Reading labels are the best way to tell how the coconut oil is made.