Healthy tips to gain weight on your cancer journey

When going through cancer treatment, it is common to experience a loss of appetite, taste changes, or other symptoms that make it difficult or less desirable to eat. Many cancer patients experience weight loss during cancer treatment. It can be a result of the cancer itself or nutrition related side effects that affect your food intake, such as nausea, taste changes, and decreased appetite. At the same time, your metabolism may be more “revved up” and your body may require more calories than normal to maintain your weight. A common concern for patients is how to promote weight gain in a healthy way. During and after cancer treatment, it is important to provide your body with adequate nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals. Weight loss does not have to be an uncontrollable outcome of cancer treatment. Using these tips below and focusing on your nutrition related side effects can be the difference between weight loss and weight gain. It is important to not get discouraged if you see the number going down on the scale. Having a positive attitude and being proactive about your nutrition can make a big difference. There are different types of food that provide different nutrients and all are important fuels for your body: Protein is an essential nutrient for healing, tissue maintenance and growth. Your body requires protein to maintain its muscle mass; people who keep their muscle mass generally have fewer side effects during cancer treatment and recover more quickly. Carbohydrates and fat help to provide increased calories your body needs during treatment. There are steps you can take to prevent excess weight loss and promote healthy weight gain during and after cancer treatment:  Eat often. The goal to promote weight gain and combat a poor appetite is to eat regularly throughout the day. You may be used to eating only 2-3 times per day, but while you are actively fighting cancer, it is recommended to eat at least 5-6 times daily. Eating often can stimulate your appetite and provide additional calories to encourage weight gain. If you are not hungry, it is hard to remember to eat. Try setting an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to eat a meal or snack. (Use smaller plates and cups as typical-sized portions often seem overwhelming).  Choose high calorie, yet healthy foods. Avocado, olives, peanut butter, and nuts are great examples of foods that are good for you, but also high in calories. Adding these foods into your daily meal or snack routine can provide you with adequate nutrients and calories. Additional examples include: seeds, like sunflower or pumpkin seeds, full fat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and trail mix.  Add calorie boosters onto the foods you are already eating. Sometimes during cancer treatment, certain foods will work for you while others won’t. It is important to eat the foods that you are
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tolerating and find appetizing, but you may need to “doctor” them up to provide additional calories. Adding condiments such as olive oil, cheese, salad dressings, and sauces onto your foods can give you the taste of eating your comfort foods, but with added calories to promote weight gain.  Tips to get more protein and calories: Switch from skim milk to whole milk, melt cheese on sandwiches, stir it into scrambled eggs or grate on top of soups, starches or meats Add cottage or ricotta cheese to fruits and vegetables, egg dishes or desserts.  Get an extra boost by mixing powdered milk into milkshakes and smoothies. Spread peanut butter and other nut based spreads on sandwiches, toast and vegetables or swirl them into shakes, smoothies, yogurt and soft ice cream. Sprinkle nuts over cereal, salads, vegetables, pancakes or fruit as a crunchy topping. Add chopped meat to salads, omelets and quiches. Eat more beans and tofu. Hummus is high in protein and can be spread on breads and vegetable. Use whole wheat pastas — and add cream sauce. Mix legumes, lentils and beans into chicken or beef broth Cook vegetables and meats in olive oil  Drink your calories. 100% fruit juice and milk or milk alternatives can provide hydration, while also providing extra calories. When you are not feeling like eating or having nausea, liquids are usually easier to consume than solid foods. Smoothies, soups and nutritional drinks are good options for high calorie snacks in between meals and are good sources of necessary liquids and lots of nutrients.  Increase Calories and Nutrients with Smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to pack in extra vitamins, minerals, fluid, fibre, protein and calories. They are also soothing if you are experiencing mouth sores. You can increase the calorie density of smoothies by adding nut butters, avocado, regular, plain Greek yogurt, flaxseed oil or other healthy oils. You can use fresh or frozen fruits and berries and a variety of liquid bases (almond milk, coconut water) to boost nutrients and add flavour.  Protein. In addition to more calories, your body needs more nutrients and more protein. Protein is very important for the immune system, to fight fatigue, and to help maintain muscle mass.  Nutritional supplements, like Boost or Ensure. Several brands and flavours are available. They can be mixed with fruits, ice cream and syrups to make milkshakes.  Stay on a schedule and plan ahead. During your cancer treatments it is important to start an eating and drinking schedule and stick with it. Drinking your fluids in between meals can prevent filling up on fluid during meal time. Planning your meals out the day before can not only increase how much you eat, but also help promote weight gain and improve your nutritional status. Utilize friends and family to help you plan ahead and stay on track.  Don’t be afraid to indulge. Sweets and desserts are high in calories, which can promote weight gain. While they do not have much nutritional value, it is okay to consume every now and then to satisfy your sweet tooth and increase your calorie intake. Using natural sugars, like honey, pure
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maple syrup, dried fruit, nuts and whole grains in your favourite dessert recipes are great ways to boost their nutritional content.  Ask someone to help with food shopping and preparation to conserve your energy for eating.  Ask a family member or friend to pack a small cooler with quick and easy meals or nutritious snacks and fluids that you can keep with you while you are sitting and resting, or take with you on the go.

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