Expert Q&A

Appetite Loss and Chemo: How to Make Foods More Appealing

My appetite has changed due to chemotherapy. How can I make foods more appealing?

-Kyle from Idaho

Having a decreased appetite during chemotherapy is common, and there are many different causes of this problem. Some chemotherapy drugs cause taste alterations or a change in a patient’s sense of smell. They can also cause dry mouth, mouth sores, nausea, and vomiting. In other instances, a patient’s appetite is affected by an early sense of satiety or a persistent sense of always being full. Depression may also alter a patient’s desire to eat.

Here are some quick and easy ways you and your caregivers can make the most of meal times:

  • Try eating small meals frequently. Snacking every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day can be easier to digest; the smaller portions will also be less overwhelming.

  • Start out the day strong with a well balanced breakfast. Oftentimes, your appetite will wane by the end of the day. Eating a healthy breakfast such as peanut butter or eggs on toast, or toast with fruit, can help get the needed calories in your system.
  • Eat foods at room temperature to increase their palatability.
  • If tastes or smell is off, add extra seasonings to meats.
  • Using plastic utensils to decrease the metallic taste in the mouth.
  • Using a salt water rinse or brushing teeth with a mint-based paste may also help food taste better.
  • If feeling full is a problem, try eating small frequent meals that are low in fat but high in carbohydrates and protein.
  • Drinking fluids between meals may also help prevent feeling overly full at meal times. Use friends and family to help in the meal preparation and shopping. Go through recipe books to look for new concoctions that may be appealing to you.
  • Make meal time an enjoyable event. Eat with friends and family members or listen to your favorite music or television show.

Speak to your physician if your appetite is affected by nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, or pain. There are many medications as well as appetite stimulants that may help maximize your appetite. Eating well during cancer therapy will help you maintain weight and quicken the recovery time when your treatment has finished.

Nutrition is an integral part of the cancer treatment process. Without proper nutrition you may alter your immune system and potentially delay the recovery process.

For more information on tips for improving your appetite during cancer treatment see the following article from TheDietChannel: Increase Your Calories and Protein during Cancer Treatment.

Dena McDowell, MS, RD
Contributing Expert

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