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Boosting energy and protein in everyday foods

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

Cancer and weight loss

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

Protein is essential for growth and repair of tissues and the immune function. Eating or drinking more protein will also help you to put on weight.

You might find it difficult to eat or drink a diet high in calories and protein. Some of the suggestions for a diet high in calories and protein may seem to go against healthy eating messages. For most people with cancer, this diet will only be temporary. You can return to a lower energy diet once your appetite and weight have recovered.

You will also feel better and have more energy if you can get back to a healthy weight for your height and build.

Get advice on how to put weight back on

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 will need help and advice from a dietitian.

Eating regularly

Try to eat ‘little and often’. That means 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.

Try not to drink too much before eating so you avoid feeling too full to eat.

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.

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.
  • Try buttermilk as a drink.
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.
  • Add toppings like cheddar or full fat cream cheese and baked beans, kippers or scrambled eggs with extra butter on toast.
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.
  • Snack on quiche, hard boiled eggs or chicken pieces dipped into mayonnaise.
Sauces and soups
  • Make 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.
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.
  • Try lassi made with fortified milk.

Try to eat 2 to 3 portions of high protein foods every day. 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

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