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Nov 1, 2010 03:16 PM


I have a friend who's a serious food lover, but she started chemotherapy a few days ago and has completely lost her appetite. She feels a strong aversion to just about any food she can think of. It's a little worrisome, because she needs to keep her strength up!

Are there any hounds out there with experience in this sort of thing who can suggest stuff that might make it across her lips?

One tip I've heard was puddings and flan. I'd imagine scrambled egg sandwiches would work, too. Anything else to propose?

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    1. My dad was always thin. So when he underwent chemo, he became dangerously underweight. The cancer center recommended Ensure. Dad was always pretty particular about his food, but we gave it a shot. He loved it (especially the chocolate):it went down easy and, more importantly, stayed down. He actually liked the taste. And it provided good nutrition.

      This will sound odd, but my sister who is a nurse told us it really isn't unusual for under-nourished patients to enjoy this product.

      Not exactly a "food," but maybe worth a shot?

      12 Replies
      1. re: gaffk

        Great tip, thanks. But of course it makes me wonder whether there are any similar products which taste any better.....maybe we'll have a taste test.

        1. re: Jim Leff

          Try mixing the ensure with ice cream, fruit, etc. Make it like a shake, and it has helped a lot of people I know. How about apple sauce?

          1. re: Jim Leff

            When my mom was having chemo, she didn't like Ensure at all, but did like Boost (esp the chocolate flavor).

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Jim, I did comparative taste testings of several Boost flavors and Ensure flavors, and Boost won for me. I understand that Ensure has recently reformulated, so the results might be different now. Best to drink it cold, as both have a definite metallic note. We used to make a "Brown Cow" for my dad, floating vanilla ice cream in a mug of chocolate Boost.

              Do check with your friend about whether any ice cream flavors taste good to her. Thankfully, almost everyone likes ice cream even when sick and the calories can help keep weight up.

              I spent a year cooking for a friend thru her journey on the c-train with battling breast cancer. Her tastes changed every week, so you'll need to keep checking in on what does and doesn't taste good. I really should post about it.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie, this is the perfect opportunity to post about it! Go for it! :)

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Definitely taste test the ensure, boost, whatever on the individual. My auntie was refusing the "most popular" flavors, but I went out and bought about a dozen different flavors for her to try across the brands, and she liked a few of them. Don't give up after trying one shake. Those things were a godsend.

                  Baby food might be a good choice (vegetarian and very bland). I seem to remember my friend's mother being able to keep it down, but I think her main reason for eating it was that it was gentle on her mouth, which was very sensitive.

                  1. re: Heatherb

                    My mom got tired of Ensure and Boost and we ended up using Carnation instant breakfasts in a can, because they were lower fiber (she was having problems) and because they lactose free. we'd order them from this website: not cheap, but 2 a day of the 375 cals. one (plus what we fed her) had her gaining weight in a few months.

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    that's really true about tastes changing. things my mom didn't like for one month suddenly came back into fashion later. (she didn't have cancer, but she did have chemo.) The Carnation instant bfast i posted below became the only nutritional supplement's taste she liked, and she learned to eat things again (bacon & eggs!) that she had eschewed for two years. so it can turn around again, just keep suggesting things, adding things back in slowly, even sneaking things in. i would chop and add spinach into everything i could.

                  3. re: Jim Leff

                    I've heard that some people like ensure semi-frozen into a "shake"

                  4. re: gaffk

                    My grandfather drank them and liked the chocolate flavor. Vanilla he called "Endure".

                    1. re: gaffk

                      I second this. I thought Ensure and Boost sounded repulsive but when my husband was ill he loved them.

                      1. re: gaffk

                        Same experience with someone I know.

                      2. It may come down completely to her personal tastes. When my beloved Aunt was in a similar situation, she was also down to drinks like ensure, soda crackers, and even fluids via IV (to keep her electrolytes balanced), unfortunately. She couldn't even stomach the smells of most foods. Chemo and flavorful food just do not seem to mix well, at least in my limited experience. She was under 100 pounds during that time. I think linguafood has the best suggestion; if only that had been an option for my aunt.

                        If she is suffering from mouth sores, go very easy on salt, if any. Purees or blended soups might be good. You could do a blended white bean soup made with chicken broth, carrots, onions, and herbs to give her a protein boost. Or even that African style peanut soup (but not spicy) made with natural peanut butter. High calorie and high protein. Quiche or simple omelettes. Brown rice with very simple roast chicken and root veggies. Stick to blander, soft foods and typically you want to avoid anything spicy, fried, greasy, sugary (i.e. added sugar), or heavy on the use of high-fat dairy (some people become very intolerant of dairy when on chemo). I would also avoid acidy things if her mouth is bothering her at all.

                        This link may help:

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jen76

                          Agree. You will just have to see what she feels she can tolerate. If iwere in that situation I would resort to the herbal remedy discussed earlier.

                        2. A couple members of my family had the same issues; my uncle said he didint have any appetite. Brothy soups like won ton or cream soups worked well as did bisques like she crab or pumpkin. Also, consider soft foods like chicken & dumplings or noodles, mashed potatoes, baked oatmeal with apples & brown sugar, yogurt with fruit, poached or soft boiled eggs, maybe sausage gravy with a very soft biscuit., etc.

                          It's important that your friend does not become dehydrated so think about popsicles, sherbet, even Pedialyte pops; here's wishing her the best.

                          1. I have worked in oncology and it is a problem that unfortunately plagues those undergoing chemo. The feedback I used to hear from patients is light, fresh food in very small portions. Nothing with a strong odour as it is off-putting and increases nausea. Steamed vegies, steamed fish or chicken was usually well recieved. Another problem that hits those undergoing chemo is terrible mouth ulcers - many don't eat due to the sheer pain. There are a lot of products out there to help with that, but keeping textures soft is really important. Also, one thing that was often appreciated before a meal was a ginger beer - some people find that the ginger helps relieve nausea a bit and the bubbles help settle the stomach prior to a meal. I hope there's something there that helps, and I wish you and your friend all the best. It can be a tough time, but it sounds like she's got good support around her.