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Tips to Combat Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment

As cancer patients and their families know well, there are many challenging aspects of treatment. Common chemotherapy and immunotherapy side effects, for example, range from hair loss to physical pain and discomfort. Oftentimes, it also means a diminished appetite.

A declining appetite can become problematic as patients need energy and a healthy body weight to combat the disease. “Ongoing appetite loss may lead to serious complications,” according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). “These include weight loss, not getting the nutrients that the body needs, and fatigue and weakness from muscle loss. These issues can slow recovery and lead to breaks in treatment.”

The causes behind loss or change of taste and nausea can be diverse: “Many anti-cancer drugs and treatments that are focused on the stomach and intestines are linked to a loss of appetite,” reports Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “Appetite loss may [also] be directly caused by cancer, particularly cancers of the gastrointestinal tract like stomach and pancreatic cancers, as well as ovarian and lung cancer.”

Managing your diet to increase appetite

Small portions: Rather than the traditional three meals, try to “eat five to six small meals a day, and snack whenever you are hungry,” advises the ASCO. Good snack options include nuts, popcorn, and granola, notes The National Cancer Institute.

Don’t watch your weight: Cancer treatment isn’t the time to undertake a new weight loss diet. It’s important not to limit how much you eat, but rather strive to make healthy food choices.

Be mindful of when you drink: Drink your liquids and eat your solids at different times. “Liquids can fill you up and limit your intake of higher calorie foods,” shares the Mayo Clinic. “It may help to drink most of your liquids at least a half-hour before or after meals.”

Consider where you eat: One unexpected appetite stimulant for cancer patients can be where they eat. A pleasant table setting, using soft music, candles and limiting noise from nearby electronics are all examples of how to make mealtime more relaxing and enjoyable.

Eat smart: Foods to avoid during chemotherapy treatment include hot, spicy dishes, like curry; fatty, fried, or greasy dishes; and overly-sugary dishes, advises Take these chemotherapy diet restrictions seriously — some foods will worsen conditions like nausea and mouth sores, explains Livestrong.

Eat bland: The best food for cancer patients with no appetite might be the simplest: “bland, low-fat, and low-fiber foods” — like hard-boiled eggs and tofu — “are easier on your digestive system,” says the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Energy foods for cancer patients

In order to maximize calories, a diet for chemotherapy patients should be built around high-energy foods. “Add butter or oils to foods,” suggests the Mayo Clinic. This might mean a little extra butter on your potatoes and rice, or incorporating oil with bread and pasta.

Another tip: Powdered creamer or dry milk powder can be mixed in to a variety of foods – from hot cocoa, milkshakes, gravy and other sauces to hot cereal, meatloaf, cream soups or puddings – for an extra bump in calories.

The National Cancer Institute also recommends integrating hard or semisoft cheese into your diet. You might melt it on to sandwiches, grate it into soups, or bake it into pies. Eating healthy is just one part of successful cancer treatment. Good financial health is also important. Treating cancer is an expensive ordeal, even for those with health insurance. Solutions like Fifth Season Financial’s Funds for Living program allow patients to receive an advance against their existing life insurance policy now, while still leaving funds for beneficiaries later. Learn more by calling (866) 459-1271 or visit

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