Every time someone mentions the word “calories,” it seems as if it’s always in a negative light. Calories are not evil, just often misunderstood.
Cancer and cancer treatment may trigger unintentional weight loss which means your calorie needs may change after a cancer diagnosis. Your body may need more calories to recover from treatment and to prevent unintentional weight loss.
The calories in food provide our bodies with fuel for energy. Foods that are high in nutrients are good fuel sources. However, foods that are low in nutrients but high in calories are not as effective at fueling your body. Think of these as “empty calories” which may take the place of healthier, nutrient-rich foods. Foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients are like cheap gas. You wouldn’t put low-quality gas in your car. It’s the same principle with your body. You want to eat foods that fuel your body well so that your body will run more efficiently and fight disease better.
Many cancer treatments zap appetite leaving patients with little desire to eat. How do you eat enough calories when you’re not even hungry? Here are a few ideas.
Add healthy fats. Of all the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats), fats provide the most calories with nine calories per gram. It makes sense that an easy way to get more calories is to add more healthy fats to your diet. Some great examples of healthy fats are avocados, peanut butter, olive oil, and sunflower seeds. Sliced avocados on toast make an amazing breakfast!
Choose whole grains. Carbohydrates are also a good place to boost calories too. Look for whole-grain products whenever you shop for bread and pasta. Not only do these foods provide more calories, they provide more nutrients than refined grain because they are made from the entire nutrient-rich grain. Choose brown rice instead of white rice to go with your favorite Asian dish for not only more nutrients but also a fuller taste.
Sip on a smoothie or shake. Liquids are another fantastic way to incorporate calories into your menu when hunger isn’t happening or if nausea is affecting your appetite. Sip on a fruit smoothie or protein shake made with Greek yogurt to get that calorie count up.
Generally speaking, thinking about the quality of the calories you consume instead of just looking at the number of calories is the key to healthy eating. Food is fuel, and if your body is fighting a disease, it needs the proper fuel to fight it. Calories are not your enemy if you choose the right ones.
Katelyn McCormack, Dietetics Student, Lipscomb University