High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients: Types, Benefits, Tips

High calorie drinks for people with patients help ensure you’re getting the nutrients and energy you need even when you might not feel like eating a solid meal.

Cancer is demanding on the body. It can not only increase your energy needs overall, but it can also result in appetite loss, gastrointestinal upset, and dehydration. Over time, these experiences can cause you to lose weight and become malnourished.

Unexplained weight loss is often one of the first signs of cancer, and rates of malnutrition range from 20% to 70% among people living with cancer.

In advanced cases, malnutrition can even contribute to cachexia, a condition of muscle wasting caused by low caloric intake, digestive changes, and cancer-related inflammatory processes in the body.

Due to the high prevalence of weight loss and malnutrition in cancer, doctors often recommend high calorie drinks for people with cancer to help add energy and nutrients in a more accessible form.

High calorie drinks are recommended for people living with cancer who need to maintain weight and meet their nutritional needs.

Not all cancers cause weight loss, however, and high calorie drinks may not be appropriate for everyone. Your doctor will advise you on a dietary plan based on your exact diagnosis.

Nichole Andrews, a registered dietician nutritionist specializing in oncology nutrition from Kennewick, Washington, explains that high calorie beverages can help offset the hyper-metabolism many people living with cancer face.

These drinks help provide the nutrients and calories necessary to maintain healthy cells, organs, and energy levels throughout the cancer experience.

“Without adding on the extra task of more meals and snacks, a high calorie beverage added daily can be the difference to meeting those added needs while keeping things convenient,” she says.

High calorie beverages can be easier than whole foods to consume when your appetite is low or if you’re experiencing stomach upset.

They offer a way to condense your nutrient intake in a form that’s fast, easy, and often gentle on the digestive system.

When it comes to the best high calories drinks for cancer patients, there’s no flagship brand you have to use. It’s OK to test what’s on the market and find one with a taste and texture you can tolerate.

Andrews says if you’re looking for a commercial product, she recommends:

  • Boost VHC by Nestle
  • Ensure Plus
  • Kate Farms High Calorie

Taylor Foster, a board certified holistic health coach from Homer, New York, also suggests Kate Farms as a reliable commercial option. “This shake is high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, too, which have been shown to prevent and repair cell damage as well as slow the spread and growth of cancerous cells,” she says.

You don’t have to limit yourself to premade products, either. Foster and Dr. Dana Hunnes, senior clinical dietician at UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, support making your own high calorie beverages.

Hunnes suggests making “own high calorie shakes using plant-based ice cream as a base (or plant-based yogurt), full-fat oat milk, protein powder of choice (I like plant-based), fruit/bananas, and any other flavors you like.”

What are the best protein drinks for cancer patients?

Protein is an essential part of proper nutrition when you live with cancer. Protein helps repair your body’s tissues and is important in preventing muscle wasting.

Protein drinks alone, however, may not be well-rounded enough when you’re looking for calories and other nutrients.

Hunnes says the biggest problem with protein drinks is that people only focus on the protein content. “They continue to lose weight, and it’s because of this irrational focus on protein. These types of patients need to focus on calories first and then protein,” she points out.

Foster adds that the type of protein can matter, as well. “Whey can be difficult to digest because it is a derivative of dairy,” Foster says. “Some may even have a sensitivity or intolerance to it as well, which may result in poor digestion and absorption.”

She recommends a nondairy protein, like pea protein, which is close to whey in the protein profile it provides.

“When shopping for a pea protein, make sure it is low in added sugars and contains high quality ingredients with little to no artificial flavors, colors, or other additives that may impede digestion and cause inflammation,” Foster says.

Making shakes at home provides the opportunity to customize your flavors and textures — and calorie content.

The American Cancer Society recommends adding dairy products, like ice cream, or nut products, like peanut butter, for a calorie boost.

If you’re looking to maximize the quality of your calories and stick to plant-based products, Foster recommends:

Meal replacements are liquid products that have a balanced meal’s worth of nutrients. They’re often recommended for people living with cancer.

Andrews says that meal replacements can be an important option for people who aren’t feeling well enough to eat regular food due to surgery, cancer treatments, and extreme amounts of stress.

Hunnes says she doesn’t like recommending meal replacements as “meal replacements,” though.

“I recommend using them as meal-adjuncts, meaning in addition to the meal,” Hunnes says. “Eat what you can, when you can, and use these shakes as additional calories.”

If you absolutely can’t stomach whole food, meal replacement shakes can get you through, but you may need to consume more than just one to meet your caloric needs.

When you live with cancer, weight loss and malnutrition can be the natural result of the demands cancer makes on your body.

Not only does cancer increase your caloric needs, but it can also make it difficult or unpleasant to eat whole foods.

High calorie drinks for cancer patients allow you to get the calories and nutrients you need in a way that’s gentle on the digestive system and easy to get down when your appetite is low.


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