Nutrition and Cancer Fatigue


Fatigue is one of the most common complaints of patients.

Energy-boosting snacks are essential for people struggling with fatigue. Fatigue refers to a lack of energy, tiredness and mental fuzziness that can be caused by many things including anemia, inadequate calorie intake, inadequate protein intake, weight loss, pain, medications, dehydration, sleep disturbances or anticancer treatments like chemo- radiation and immunotherapies.

Snacks are important because small portions are more easily finished and they help refuel calories, proteins and nutrients for optimal nutrition without feeling burdened by a large meal. Snacks should be healthy, easy to digest and most importantly, easy to prepare.

  • Hydrator smoothie: Blend watermelon, cucumber and a light base of coconut or maple water. Good old plain water is good, too. I like to add a squeeze of lemon or lime for vitamin C zing. Achieving and maintaining adequate fluid intake is one of the most important things during treatment. I like this smoothie because it includes watermelon and cucumber, which are naturally hydrating. The citrus adds a refreshing quality. Better than any sports drink, this smoothie will provide not only hydration but it will replace electrolytes too.
  • Avocado cracker smash with a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes Avocados are a healthy source of fats and energy and they contain 60 percent more potassium than bananas. I think of avocado as a healthy plant butter. I like Wasa and Finn Crisps crackers.
  • Raw or baked banana, split lengthwise, drizzled with almond butter, green pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and a pinch of coconut flakes Bananas contain about 30 percent of our daily B6 needs for energy production. Nuts and seeds are packed with all the nutrients required to grow a new plant. A 1 oz serving of almond butter provides almost half of our vitamin E needs. By weight, pumpkin seeds have more iron to improve anemia than the liver does!
  • Soft scrambled eggs: Cooked softly in a small amount of butter or olive oil can be flavored to your preference. Maybe with onions and spinach or just a little grated cheese. Eat the yolks! For vitamin A, carotenoids and choline. Eggs are a great source of protein and zinc, two nutrients that are easily under-eaten when undergoing treatment. Scrambled eggs are also soft and easy to chew, which is a lot less stressful for those suffering from significant fatigue.
  • Toast topped with ricotta, cinnamon and raisins Ricotta is a soft protein-rich cheese that is generally low in sodium. I like to add cinnamon to bring out the sweetness. Raisins may be tiny, but they pack a potassium and iron punch. Plus, the nostalgic cinnamon-raisin flavor is universally enjoyed.
  • Baked pita chips and hummus I like to make my own, but there are great items available from large grocery chains to neighborhood bodegas. Hummus is a classic chickpea dip with tahini, a puree of toasted sesame seeds. Hummus is a great source of protein and minerals like magnesium and iron.
  • Overnight oatmeal. Combine dry, unflavored, quick-cooking oats with chopped dates, coconut flakes and milk (dairy or non-dairy). Allow to site overnight. When ready to eat, stir in a heaping spoonful of plain yogurt. Oats are an easy to digest whole grain with soluble fiber. Yogurt is an excellent source of protein and probiotics for a healthy immune system.
  • Canned or pouched salmon mixed with mayo or capers and a squeeze of lemon on toast. More calcium than yogurt! It’s much easier and more affordable to find wild salmon canned or pouched than to purchase fresh. Canned or pouched salmon has more calcium than yogurt! The fatty fish has a stellar nutrition reputation with healthy omega-3 fats to promote healing and repair.

Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN

Twitter @amandabontempo

Instagram @amandabonbon

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