9 Foods to Stimulate Appetite in Cancer Patients (+ Recipe)

By Deborah Oke
December 28, 2016

When you undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer it often affects your appetite. Let’s face it, if the food tastes like cardboard, or looks like baby food, it likely won’t be very appealing. Or if you constantly feel nauseous, you are unlikely going to want to put anything in your stomach. Even though there are many complications that go along with conventional cancer treatments, it is still vital that you consume sufficient nutrients to help your body recover.

The body is designed to heal itself. However, if it is overwhelmed by poisons, pain, and the inability to smell or taste, food might be the last thing you want. Therefore it’s important that you make a deliberate choice to consume foods that will stimulate your appetite while delivering the biochemical components to rebuild damaged tissues and fight against infection and inflammation. These foods should also contain properties in them that eliminate nausea, stimulate appetite, and heal the gastrointestinal tract.

Ayurveda is an ancient natural medicine system from India. This approach is gaining in popularity in the West and has been useful for building up the body after serious illness. In Ayurveda, it is believed that all the senses need to be stimulated in order to enhance the flavor and benefits of our culinary choices. Each food elicits specific beneficial factors toward the overall health of the individual.

Making the food stimulating to the nose, taste buds, sight, and memory are all important. The color, texture, and smell of individual components of the dish will enhance the flavor and stimulate the appetite. Also, it is especially advantageous to combine all seven of the tastes in a particular dish. (The 7 basic tastes described by scientists are: bitter, salty, sour, astringent, sweet, pungent, and umami). When these flavors also have brilliant color, then you have succeeded in tapping into most of the senses and will therefore get the greatest response.

For example, mixing fruit and hot peppers in your salad with nuts and seeds to add crunch will create a greater sensory experience than just the typical green lettuce and tomato. Mixing the ingredients to include a rainbow of color will also delight the senses. Superfood expert David “Avocado” Wolfe has even developed the “color cure” for a simplified approach to nutrition. He has proven scientifically that each color in nature has its own benefits for meeting the body’s nutritional needs.

9 Foods That Can Stimulate Appetite After Cancer Therapy

Here is a close look at some stimulating foods that will deliver important bio-chemicals to trigger the appetite in cancer patients:

#1. Avocados are especially important as an antioxidant and tissue repair fruit/vegetable. They contain natural vitamin E which is known to counter bad estrogens and balance the cholesterol, as well as meet the “good fat” requirements your body needs. If we don’t consume enough good fats then our metabolism suffers and we lose energy.

Healthy, uncooked fats also enhance the overall culinary experience and have a nice, smooth texture that is easy to consume. Avocados are usually available year round. Even though they can be costly they are worth their weight in gold. You should plan to incorporate avocado into your daily diet.

#2. Aloe Vera is not usually considered a food but it is actually a type of sugar that tastes bitter. However, the healing benefits are extremely important after cancer therapy. Including aloe in a smoothie along with avocado will help to heal damaged tissue and fight viral infections. Fresh aloe vera contains over 200 nutrients so adding it to your diet will help you recover faster.

#3. Bananas are hydrating and offer electrolytes that help to maintain your health and energy. They are naturally sweet but they are balanced when consumed with dark leafy greens in a smoothie. This will help the bitter greens to taste better and you’ll get the needed appetite stimulus − plus the nutrients.

#4. Sweet potatoes and carrots are also important antioxidant foods that will stimulate your appetite while delivering beta-carotenoids. These are vitamin A compounds that build tissue, and contribute to your eye health and digestion.

#5. Fresh made nut butters, without preservatives, will increase your fat and protein intake while delivering a creaminess to your cuisine. These are very important to give you energy and build your tissues to help you recover.

#6. Gluten-free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, and whole oat groats will also stimulate your appetite.

#7. Cruciferous vegetables are an important part of the bitter foods group that increase your appetite while building up your immune system. They are high in antioxidants, and have antiviral and anticancer components. So you can feed your body with dynamic nutrients while stimulating the desire for food simultaneously. Cruciferous veggies include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and spinach.

#8. Olives are also important bitter foods that contain special fatty acids to heal your body while increasing your metabolism. Olive oil has been highly acclaimed for centuries as a vital food in the Mediterranean. Now the world is catching on to the extraordinary health benefits of olives and olive oil. Try to get your olives and olive oil from as minimally processed, organic sources as possible.

#9. Bitter substances such as lemon juice, vinegar, sauerkraut, wine, and bitter herbs like rocket and mustard will also stimulate the flow of gastric juices and saliva to induce hunger. You can make a salad with just lemon juice and olive oil as a dressing to enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

You don’t have to consume a lot of these items to get the response you need. A little of the bitter foods and herbs will go a long way. Be creative by adding as many as you can to each meal for variety.

Tips For Meal Preparation for Cancer Patients

If undergoing conventional cancer treatments it is important to eat small meals, but more often. Try consuming a nutrient dense smoothie for one meal and a few hours later try some sun dried fruits (without sugar) and untoasted nuts. Then you can have lunch made with salad greens, bitter herbs, apple slices, and berries. Add the lemon and olive oil dressing with a pinch of cayenne pepper and avocado and you have an exceptional nutrient-dense meal.

Once you get started on eating this way you will wonder how you ever lived any other way. This change of diet will increase your sense of taste, smell, and appetite. It will help you heal while helping you feel good.

Here’s a recipe to get you off to a good start. Sauerkraut is special because it incorporates the cruciferous vegetables, bitter herbs and spices, lemon juice, and probiotics for good gut health all in one. As an added bonus, this recipe is very easy to make.

Recipe to Restore Appetite: Seven Day Sauerkraut

 Yield: Two 16 ounce jars
Preparation Time: 20 minutes


  • 4 cups of green cabbage, finely mandolined
  • 1 cup of shredded carrot
  • ¼ cup of leek, sliced into half moons
  • ¼ cup of diced sweet pepper
  • 6 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Spring or filtered water as needed


  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 tablespoon pink or sea salt


  1. Prepare the 1-quart mason jars by washing and rinsing with boiled water, including the lids. Dry and set aside.
  2. Place all the fresh ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Add the spices, lemon juice, and water. Massage the spices into the vegetables.
  4. Spoon the sauerkraut into the jars evenly. Add water to cover the sauerkraut by one inch. Cover with a cheesecloth or tea towel and leave on the countertop for three days to allow fermentation to begin. Mix occasionally to ensure even distribution of the fermentation.
  5. After three days, cover with the lids and store in a cool dry place. Make sure there is still 1 inch of liquid above the vegetables. After seven days, checking the fermentation process each day, the sauerkraut should be translucent. If not, allow to ferment one more day. Now it is ready to eat. Store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation after opening. Enjoy!

Serving Suggestions:

  1. Sauerkraut is great as a side dish or in a salad.
  2. It can be eaten alone as a main dish with some fresh cucumber, tomato, and/or broccoli sproutson the side.
  3. It can be a base for vegetarian sushi.
  4. It is delicious on healthy, gluten-free crackers.

Please share this important information on how to stimulate appetite with any friends and family who are undergoing cancer treatments.

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