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Tips for a build-up diet for pancreatic cancer

If you have lost weight or have a small appetite, you might need a diet to help you put weight back on. This is called a build-up diet, and can increase the amount of energy (calories) and protein in your diet.

  • Have high calorie foods, such as full fat milk, yoghurt and butter. You can also enrich your food to increase the calories and protein. 
  • If you are eating higher fat meals, you may need to increase the amount of enzyme supplements you take.
  • Try to have a pint of full cream milk every day.
  • Try to eat more foods that are high in protein, such as meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, beans and lentils, nuts, and yoghurt. Try to include protein in at least two of your meals each day.
  • Try to have snacks between meals. Snacks can include sweet things like cake, yoghurt, fruit, teacakes and malt loaf. Or you can have savoury things like toasted crumpets, samosas, cocktail sausages, cheese and crackers. High protein snacks such yoghurts, cheese, nuts or cold meats are particularly good. 
  • Have a snack instead of a main meal if this is easier.
  • Have a pudding once or twice a day – for example, yoghurt, ice cream, cake, sponge pudding, or ready-made desserts
  • Drink about eight cups of fluids a day. Have nutritious drinks such as milk, fruit smoothies (made with yoghurt, ice cream or full cream milk), hot chocolate and fruit juice
  • If you find drinks fill you up at meals, it may help to have your drinks in between your meals, rather than with them
  • Use ready meals if that’s easier. These will save you time and energy. 
  • Eat what you feel like, and try not to worry about ‘normal’ meals. It’s fine if you fancy breakfast cereal for supper, your pudding before your main course, or soup for breakfast
  • Avoid low fat or ‘diet’ food
  • Have some fruit and vegetables every day – but don’t fill up on these if it means you can’t eat foods that are high in energy and protein.

Enriched food

Enriched food can help you get more calories and protein, without needing to eat more food.

  • Enrich milk by mixing four tablespoons of skimmed milk powder into a pint of full cream milk. Use this enriched milk instead of ordinary milk in tea and coffee, on cereals, in soups, to make sauces, and in milk-based puddings.
  • Add sugar, jam or honey to cereal, porridge, puddings and hot drinks.
  • Add cheese, cream, dried milk powder, lentils or pasta to soup.
  • Add grated cheese, cream, butter, margarine, mayonnaise or salad cream to meat, potatoes and vegetables.
  • Add cream, evaporated milk or cheese to milk-based sauces.
  • Add cream, custard, evaporated or condensed milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, dried fruit, or nuts to puddings.

If you have other health problems, for example heart problems, you may have been told in the past to reduce the amount of fat in your diet. But if you have lost weight because of pancreatic cancer, eating some types of higher fat food can help you put weight on. Speak to your dietitian for advice.

If you can’t eat a build-up diet and are still struggling with eating, or you are still losing weight, speak to your dietitian. If you haven’t seen a specialist dietitian, ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to one.

Macmillan Cancer Support has ideas for meals that you may find helpful in their booklet, The building-up diet.

More tips for managing different pancreatic cancer symptoms

Updated November 2017

To be reviewed November 2019

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