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Treatments & Procedures

Radiation Therapy's Effect on Appetite

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 provides you with the energy you need and the fuel for your body to recover from treatment and fight infection.

What can I do to improve my appetite during treatment?

  • Walk or participate 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 provide additional 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.
  • Hot cereal: Cook with 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Is there anyone available to 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.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 4/11/2011...#4535