Figuring out what to eat when you have lung cancer can feel like solving a riddle. There’s no one-size-fits-all lung cancer diet, and your nutritional goals may be different depending on where you are in treatment. Snacks are a great way to fill in the gaps when you don’t have an appetite for big meals. Finding snacks filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats will support strength and energy throughout your cancer journey.
Nutritious snacks can help combat the weight loss and muscle loss that often accompanies lung cancer. Of course, not every snack needs to be nutrient-packed. There’s nothing wrong with simple standbys like peanut butter and crackers. It’s fine to eat the foods that you like. However, finding new and creative ways to meet your calorie needs can help you navigate taste changes and other treatment side effects.
Getting enough protein is a common problem for people with lung cancer. Bite-size portions of protein spread throughout small meals and snacks can make it easier to meet protein intake goals. Protein-rich snacks can help you get the nutrition you need even when you don’t feel much like eating.
Protein shakes, bars, and puddings can help you get more protein if regular food sources aren’t appealing. In addition to these snacks, protein-rich foods to keep on hand include:
Adding healthy fats can boost the calorie content of your snacks. You can find these fats in:
Members of MyLungCancerTeam echo the importance of eating enough to maintain a healthy body weight. One member said, “My advice is to eat nut butters and ice cream shakes no matter if you’re hungry or not. I have Pancoast lung cancer and had a lobectomy. My job was to retain my weight. During surgery, I lost 7 pounds. I didn’t want to eat, but I made myself eat 2,800 calories a day, and I succeeded.”
Fruits and vegetables are an essential component of any healthy diet. By eating different colors of fruits and veggies, you’ll provide your body with a range of anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Opt for calorie-dense dried fruits, like prunes, dried apricots, or raisins, if you’re concerned about filling up too quickly. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, are exceptionally nutritious for people with lung cancer. Wash and chop these veggies to have for a snack with hummus or your favorite vegetable dip.
The effects of cancer treatment can make some foods hard to handle. In those instances, these snacks may come in handy.
If you’re experiencing nausea from cancer treatment, you may find that hot foods with strong odors are difficult to tolerate. Instead, opt for cold or frozen snacks. Ice pops are a cool and refreshing way to help alleviate dry mouth from lung cancer treatment and take in some nutrition when you can’t stomach a hot meal.
A few members of MyLungCancerTeam have commented that ice pops were a go-to snack during chemotherapy. “I couldn’t eat for three weeks at the end of my radiation. I lived on ice pops,” said one member. Another shared, “I survived my chemo with banana frozen pops.”
Look for ice pops made with 100 percent fruit juice. Better yet, use a blender to prepare them yourself. You can blend frozen fruit with a spoonful of plain Greek yogurt to add some fat and protein to your ice pops. Molds are available online, or you can make small ice pop bites in an ice tray.
Hydration is essential to combat potential treatment side effects like dry mouth and swallowing problems. Doctors recommend drinking eight to 10 cups of water per day, but hydrating snack foods can also help. For example, you could make your own smoothies with frozen or fresh fruit, leafy greens, and a spoonful of nut or seed butter for extra calories. You could also try milkshakes with protein powder to sneak in calories throughout the day.
One MyLungCancer member suggested the book “Anti-Cancer Smoothies: Healing With Superfoods” by Linda Harris, saying, “They sound weird but are delicious. I can attest to these smoothie recipes as I used them several times when I had no appetite.”
On a chilly day, soups and oatmeal are comforting choices to settle your stomach. Remember, there’s no rule about what constitutes a “snack food.” Any food you’re in the mood for can help keep up your energy levels and strength during treatment.
If you’re struggling with snack ideas that meet your health needs, consider meeting with a registered dietitian. Oncology dietitians are specially trained on different strategies to help you stay nourished. Here’s what a member of MyLungCancerTeam said about their experience seeing a dietitian: “I had a great dietitian at my oncologist’s office who helped me with high-calorie shakes and a list of spices that helped flavor food for me. I had no weight loss.”
A dentist and a speech and language pathologist can also assist with mouth issues and eating difficulties. Ask your health care team for referrals to take advantage of the expertise that different specialists can offer.
MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 4,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.
Are you living with lung cancer? What are your go-to snacks? Share your suggestions in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyLungCancerTeam.