How will radiation therapy affect my appetite?

Radiation therapy may cause you to lose your appetite. However, it is important to continue following good nutrition practices even if you don't feel like eating. Eating balanced, nutritious meals gives you the energy you need and the fuel for your body to recover from treatment and fight infection. As your radiation continues, you will likely need a softer diet and more high-calorie liquid supplements.

What can I do to improve my appetite during treatment?

  • Walk or take part in another light activity to stimulate your appetite.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks.
  • Make food preparation an easy task. Choose foods that are easy to prepare and eat.
  • Choose high-protein and high-calorie snacks.
  • Drink a nutritional supplement to get extra calories, protein, and other nutrients. A registered dietitian can recommend a good brand to meet your needs.
  • Avoid non-nutritious beverages such as black coffee and tea.
  • Plan meals to include your favorite foods.
  • Make eating a pleasurable experience, not a chore:
  • Liven up your meals by using colorful place settings.
  • Play background music during meals.
  • Try not to eat alone: invite a guest to share your meal or go out to dinner.
  • Use your imagination to increase the variety of food you're eating.
  • Use colorful garnishes such as parsley and red or yellow peppers to make food look more appealing and appetizing.

What are some ways to boost calories?

Don't rely on fatty snacks such as potato chips, candy bars and soft drinks. Although these foods add calories to your daily diet, you'll sacrifice good nutrition by eating them. Instead, follow these guidelines to boost the amount of calories in the foods you eat:

  • Juice: Choose apple, cranberry, grape, pineapple, or apricot juice - these juices have more calories than orange and grapefruit juice.
  • Fruit: Choose bananas and dried fruits - they have more calories than "watery" fruits such as peaches or plums.
  • Milk: Add dry powdered milk or instant breakfast mix to milk or milkshakes. Use whole milk and add whipped cream to milkshakes.
  • Hot cereal: Cook with whole milk and add powdered milk, margarine, peanut butter, walnuts, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, or dried fruit.
  • Cold cereal: Choose dense cereals such as a granola (as opposed to flaked or puffed types). Top with fresh fruit.
  • Toast: Spread with generous amounts of peanut butter, margarine, or jam.
  • Sandwiches: Choose hearty, thick breads such as whole wheat, multi-grain, or pumpernickel. Fill sandwiches generously with tuna, chicken, peanut butter, or other sandwich fillings. Add butter.
  • Soups: Choose hearty lentil, split pea, minestrone, and barley soups. Choose hearty lentil, split pea, minestrone, and barley soups. These soups have more calories than broth soups. Add evaporated or powdered milk to increase calories. Garnish with parmesan cheese or crackers. Remember to add butter or grated cheese.
  • Meats: Choose lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish. Saute meat in olive oil and add bread crumb toppings.
  • Beans/legumes: Choose lentils, split peas, and other dried beans -- they are high in carbohydrates and protein.
  • Salads: Add cottage cheese, garbanzo beans, sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts, raisins, tuna fish, or lean meats.
  • Snacks: Choose oatmeal raisin cookies, rice pudding, banana bread, muffins, low-fat yogurt with fruit, peanut butter crackers, milkshakes, hot cocoa, sandwiches, dried fruit, bagels, English muffins, pretzels, and popcorn.

Can anyone help me address my individual nutritional concerns?

Yes. A registered dietitian - an expert in nutrition - is available to help you maintain good nutrition during your treatment even when you don't feel well. Dietitians can provide expert counseling and informational literature.

Your doctor or nurse may refer you to the dietitian, or you can ask to see the dietitian yourself. An appointment with the dietitian will be scheduled for you as close as possible to your treatment time.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/16/2016.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy