Tips for getting more calories and protein into your food

Losing weight is a common symptom of pancreatic cancer. These tips will help you get more calories into your food to help you put on weight.

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

Your dietitian can help you to make changes to 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 a higher fat meal, you will need to take more enzymes.
  • Use high fat foods in your usual recipes when you are cooking. For example, use full fat milk, margarine, butter or ghee.
  • Try to have a pint of whole milk every day. You can add it to other foods and drinks, such as hot drinks, cereal, soups and sauces.
  • 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 all three of your meals each day.
  • Try to have snacks between meals. These can include sweet things like cake, fruit, teacakes and malt loaf. Or savoury things like crumpets, samosas, cocktail sausages, and cheese. High protein snacks such as 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, ice cream or kulfi, sponge pudding, rice pudding, sweet pastries and pies or ready-made desserts.
  • If you can, try to drink about eight cups of fluids a day. Try having nutritious drinks such as milk, fruit smoothies (made with yoghurt, ice cream or whole milk), hot chocolate and fruit juice.
  • If you find that drinks fill you up at mealtimes, it may help to have your drinks in between your meals.
  • 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 ice cream for breakfast.
  • 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 calories and protein.
  • Avoid low fat, fat free or ‘diet’ food.
  • There are vegan options available if you need them. For example, Quorn, tofu, hummus and dairy-free milk, cheese and yoghurt products.
  • Dairy alternatives, such as soya or oat milk, often have fewer calories and less protein than dairy. Try to choose options that are higher in fat and contain calcium and vitamins.
  • Speak to your dietitian, doctor or nurse for advice on getting as many calories and protein into your diet as possible if you have a vegan diet or any other special dietary needs.

Speak to your dietitian if changes to your diet don’t help you put on weight. They may suggest nutritional supplements.

Quotemarks Created with Sketch.
Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

"What’s needed is the nutrition & getting as many calories as you can. That was a game changer to know that information. It definitely helped when mum lost her appetite. It meant we could encourage her to eat doughnuts and anything else that she fancied. So she was very happy to have those things!”


Enriched or fortified food

Enriched or fortified food has extra nutrients added to it. This can help you get more calories and protein, without needing to eat more food.

  • Enrich milk by mixing two to four tablespoons of skimmed milk powder into a pint of whole milk. Use this instead of ordinary milk in tea, coffee, cereals, porridge, soups, mashed potato and milk-based puddings.
  • Add sugar, jam, cream or honey to cereal, porridge, puddings and hot drinks.
  • Add cheese, cream, 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 grated cheese to potatoes, or sprinkle it on top of dishes like shepherd’s pie, rice and peas, fish pie or casseroles.
  • Add cream, custard, evaporated or condensed milk, ice cream, honey, sugar, dried fruit, or nuts to puddings.

If you have other health problems, such as 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. You might want to choose options such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. Speak to your dietitian for advice about enriching your food.

If you are still struggling with eating, or you are still losing weight on a build-up diet, 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 high-calorie meals that you may find helpful in their booklet, The building-up diet.

Quotemarks Created with Sketch.
Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

“I shopped for food for her and baked and cooked her favourite foods. She was eating but needed tempting now and again. It made me feel that I could do something for her.”

Speak to our nurses

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our Support Line with any questions you have about weight loss or getting more calories and protein into your diet.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse, Lisa, talks on the phone to offer support.

Updated March 2023

Review date March 2025