Getting Enough Protein and Calories During Treatment

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: My friend is undergoing cancer treatment and has been told that she needs to eat more protein. She has no appetite, but will take liquids. Can you suggest any protein supplements, and/or medications that might improve her appetite?

LB, Peabody, Massachusetts 

A: Your friend should meet with a nutritionist where she's being treated.

We recommend a pattern of small, frequent meals, that is, four to six small meals a day that are high in calories, protein and other nutrients to help promote appetite and adequate overall nutrition for energy level and immune support.

Protein shakes or smoothies are often a helpful way of reaching these goals. The protein powders we recommend most often include whey or soy protein powder, which can be found at a variety of health food stores and grocery or drug stores. We also like Resurgex protein powder, which is 350 calories for 15 grams of protein and contains phytonutrients. Resurgex also comes in ready-to-drink form.

Adding 1 tablespoon of canola oil to homemade smoothies is another way to increase calories in a healthful manner (120 calories per tablespoon). Canola oil will not change the texture or flavor of the shake. There are some tasty smoothie and other recipes on our web site in the Recipe Archive section.

Other tips for boosting total calories without increasing the volume of food include using healthful fats such as olive oil; nut butters (peanut, almond, sunflower seed, etc.); pesto, snacking on nuts/trail mix/granola; and using whole-milk dairy products. You'll find more tips in our section on managing side effects.

There are a few medications that physicians recommend, including Megace and Marinol. Your friend should speak with her doctor to see if any appetite-stimulating medications are right for her.

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