My mom has cancer and has progressively been losing weight. What can I feed her to help stop this process and help stabilize her weight?

Weight loss often occurs with the diagnosis of cancer and can worsen during cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery can often lead to a reduction in weight secondary to reduced appetite, early satiety (filling up fast), altered taste, sore mouth, and changes in bowel habits. I find that although most people understand that they need to eat to stay healthy, these side effects often make it hard to get enough calories and protein. Increasing people’s calorie levels by 300-500 additional calories a day can generally help to stabilize weight.

I generally first assess patient’s recent oral intake. I will complete a 24-hour food recall and try to get a feel for patient’s likes and dislikes. From there I will offer hints and suggestions to improve the patient’s current food intake. For example, if a patient starts each day with oatmeal (made with water) and coffee I will suggest that they exchange milk or heavy cream for water in their oatmeal and add their favorite fruit, flaxseeds and nuts to the mix. The addition of a glass of juice and a slice of toast with peanut butter really increases the calorie content. If lunch consists of a turkey sandwich on white bread I encourage them to choose a more nutrient dense whole grain bread and top it with low fat mayo, cheese, hummus, vegetables and turkey. For further improvement pair that with a fruit salad, 100% fruit juice and whole grain crackers. At dinner I suggest topping baked broccoli with cheese, adding meat to soups or casseroles, sprinkle nuts, cheese, and eggs on a side salad etc.

For patients who struggle with getting fuller fast, small frequent meals can be the way to go. Choosing nutrient dense snacks like peanut butter toast, whole grain granola, cheese and crackers, hummus and whole grain chips, fruit/nut/seed trail mix, hard boiled eggs and yogurt combined with fruit and nuts make great snacks. Watching the clock can help people obtain adequate nutrition. I advise that people eat every 2-3 hours as a way to best optimize nutrition.

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