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Boosting energy in everyday foods

Find out how to boost calories in everyday foods if you have lost weight due to cancer or its treatment.

Cancer and weight loss

It is likely that if you have cancer you will have lost weight at some point.

Eating a high calorie (kcal) diet is something that you might find difficult. Whatever the cause of your weight loss, you will feel better and have more energy if you can get back up to a normal weight for your height and build.

Get advice on regaining weight

There are different ways of putting weight on. You can try to eat a diet that is higher in calories. And you can drink nourishing fluids to supplement your diet.

Most importantly, get help from a dietitian. Every hospital and most GP's have a dietitian who can advise you. You can ask your hospital doctor or nurse to refer you.

Remember that fat is the best way to get concentrated calories. But after surgery to your stomach, pancreas or bowel, you may find it difficult to cope with high fat foods. In these cases you definitely need help and advice from your dietitian.

Eating regularly

Try to eat regular, smaller meals and snacks, every 2 hours or so. Do this by the clock rather than waiting until you feel hungry.

It is better to eat something regularly than to try to eat one big meal, and only manage a few mouthfuls.

Tips to boost energy in everyday foods

There are various ways of adding calories to your meals and snacks. Remember to choose full fat and high calorie options whenever you can.

Below are some ways you can boost your diet.

Use full fat and fortified milk and butter

  • Use full cream milk instead of semi-skimmed.
  • Put 2 to 4 tablespoons of milk powder into a pint of full cream milk to make fortified milk. Use it instead of regular milk.
  • Always use plenty of butter or margarine where you can.

Drinks

  • Make milky coffee (or use fortified milk).
  • Add fortified milk to tea and coffee, or bedtime drinks such as Horlicks, Ovaltine or drinking chocolate.

Breakfast

  • Soak porridge oats with added sugar overnight in full cream milk. This softens them and makes them easier to eat.
  • Add dried fruit or seeds to boost nutrients and calories in your cereal. About 75g (or 3oz) of oats treated this way will give you about 500 calories.

Snacks

  • Keep snacks like nuts, pasteurised cheese, fresh and dried fruit, biscuits, crackers, yoghurts or fromage frais handy to nibble at.
  • Make sure you buy full fat fromage frais and yoghurt.
  • Spread fillings thickly in sandwiches.
  • Add a dessertspoon of mayonnaise to sandwich fillings such as hard boiled egg or tuna fish.

Sauces and soups

  • Make up packet sauces or soups with milk (or fortified milk) instead of water.
  • Make sauces with milk instead of water, or fortified milk instead of standard milk.
  • Stir a tablespoon of cream into canned soups.

Vegetables

  • Mix grated cheese or cream with mashed potato.
  • Melt butter on top of hot vegetables or garnish with grated cheese or chopped hard boiled egg.
  • Serve vegetables with a sauce made with fortified milk.

Desserts

  • Add ice cream, cream or evaporated milk to cold puddings.
  • Add custard made with fortified milk to hot puddings.
  • Add sugar, glucose powder, honey or syrup to desserts.

Drinking nourishing fluids

Have nourishing drinks such as milky drinks and smoothies. Drinking only water, squash or tea can fill you up without giving you many calories or any protein. Any milk based drink will give you calories and protein.

Your dietitian may suggest high energy supplement drinks to have between meals.

Last reviewed: 
03 Jan 2017
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance
    Nutrition support for adults – 2006

  • Nutrition and Cancer
    Edited by Clare Shaw
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

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