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Boosting energy and protein in everyday foods

There are ways to boost the energy (calories) and protein in everyday foods to help with weight loss due to cancer or its treatment.

Cancer and weight loss

Eating more calories gives you the energy to help you to regain the weight you have lost. Extra energy may be helpful if you have higher nutritional needs due to cancer treatment. 

Protein is important for growth and repair of tissues and the immune function. A higher protein intake will help you to put on weight.

Eating a high calorie (kcal) and protein diet is something that you might find difficult. Some of the suggestions here may seem to go against healthy eating messages. But don’t worry. You can return to a lower energy diet once your appetite and weight have recovered. 

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 energy and protein. And you can drink nourishing fluids to supplement your diet.

Get help from a dietitian. Every hospital and most GP's have a dietitian who can tell you what to do. 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. Try to include protein at each meal including breakfast.

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 and protein in everyday foods

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

Foods that contain protein are:

  • red meat like pork, lamb and beef
  • white meat like turkey and chicken
  • meat alternatives like tofu, quorn and soya
  • fish and shell fish
  • eggs
  • beans, lentils, chickpeas and other pulses or legumes
  • milk, yogurt and cheese

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.


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


  • 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.
  • Add toppings like cheddar or full fat cream cheese and baked beans, kippers or scrambled eggs with extra butter on toast.


  • 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.
  • Snack on quiche, hard boiled eggs or chicken pieces dipped into mayonnaise.

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 or full fat yogurt into canned soups.
  • Add plenty of pulses or meat to stews and casseroles.


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Try lassi made with fortified milk.

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 gives you calories and protein.

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

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.