High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients

“High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients” was written by Genevieve Bowman, RDCS & edited/reviewed by Aly Bouzek, MS, RDN. 

Drinks that are high in calories are ideal for cancer patients to maintain a healthy weight, get nutrients, and stay hydrated.

Cancer patients may experience side effects from their treatments and disease that put them at risk for malnutrition and dehydration. They may experience difficulty consuming foods or consuming enough food to meet their needs. 

High calorie drinks can be an important tool for cancer patients’ health.

Why is Nutrition Important for Cancer Patients?

While nutrition is important in every individual as we age, for those with cancer, the need is critically important. (1)

Proper nutrition provides the body with what it needs to maintain a healthy body weight and have strength and energy for daily activities. It also supports a healthy immune system.

Without adequate nutrition, cancer patients may be unable to complete their treatments. This is often due to them being at higher risk for malnutrition and dehydration.

Common Causes of Malnutrition and Dehydration in Cancer Patients

Malnutrition happens when an individual does not consume enough nutrients to meet their body’s needs. Dehydration happens when the body loses more fluids than the person is drinking. 

Cancer treatments and certain tumors can have side effects that could lead to malnutrition and dehydration including (2):

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in smell or taste
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness
  • Lactose intolerance

Why are High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients a Great Option?

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients

Many cancer patients find that loss of appetite, swallowing issues, and other side effects from their treatments make it difficult to get the nutrients they need to maintain their health. 

Some patients find it easier to drink their calories and nutrients.

This is what makes high calorie drinks for cancer patients such a great option.

High calorie drinks can provide calories, protein, fats, and other nutrients in a smaller volume than food.

Many cancer patients also find it easier to sip on a beverage instead of swallowing solid foods. 

High calorie drinks can be used as a meal replacement or between meals if the patient is consuming a more moderate amount of calories.

4 High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients

  1. Store-bought nutrition shakes
  2. High calorie smoothies
  3. High calorie shakes
  4. Fortified Milk

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients: Store-Bought Nutrition Shakes

Store-bought nutrition shakes are a popular option because they are convenient and they have the ability to be stored for long periods of time until they’re needed. They are easily available in grocery and drug stores. 

Popular brands include Ensure by Abbott Nutrition and Boost by Nestle Nutrition. Store brands and organic varieties such as Orgain are also popular.

When using nutrition shakes as a meal replacement, cancer patients should look for varieties that contain 250 calories or more per serving. (3) There are varieties that have as high as 550 calories a serving.

Some good Ensure choices include:

  • Ensure Plus (350 calories/ 8 oz serving)
  • Ensure Complete (350 calories/ 10 oz serving)
  • Ensure Enlive (350 calories/ 8 oz serving)
  • Ensure Compact (220 calories/ 4oz serving)

Some good Boost choices include:

  • Boost Plus (360 calories/ 8 oz serving)
  • Boost Very High Calorie (530 calories/ 8 oz serving)

For those with cancer surgery-, chemotherapy-, or radiation-induced lactose intolerance, there are plant-based options that don’t contain dairy. While they are lower in calories, they are still a great option to supplement your diet.

  • Ensure Plant-Based Protein (180 calories/ 11 oz serving)
  • Orgain Vegan Organic Nutrition Shake (220 calories/ 11 oz serving)

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients: High Calorie Smoothies

High calorie smoothies are a way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in liquid form. This is also a great way to consume more vitamins and fiber with less sugar.

High calorie smoothies can be found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores with such brands as Naked or Bolthouse Farms.

They can also be made at home with ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, nut butter, juices, dairy, and non-dairy products.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

This tasty recipe is featured on our sister site, High Calorie Recipes. It’s full of nutrients and it’s easy to make. One serving is 787 calories.


  • 1/4 cup powdered oats or rolled oats
  • 1 medium banana
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1 Tbsp honey


  1. Add all ingredients, in order from top to bottom, into a blender. 
  2. Blend until smooth (using the smoothie button if it is an option).
  3. Pour into a 14 oz or larger cup.
  4. Enjoy! 

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients: High Calorie Shakes

High calorie shakes are another easy option to make at home. They are a popular option due to their tasty and dessert-like flavors.

When weight loss and malnutrition are a concern, higher calorie options like shakes can provide needed calories. With ingredients such as nut butter and dairy products, these drinks provide the most calories per serving. 

Since many shakes can contain 700-1,000 calories a serving, it is recommended that they are consumed between meals or as a meal replacement.

Almond Butter Weight Gain Shake

This tasty recipe is also featured on our sister site, High Calorie Recipes. It’s full of nutrients and is easy to make. One serving is 1,021 calories.


  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 3/4 cup half & half
  • 1/4 cup almond butter
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • Whipped cream as desired


  1. Add ice cream, half & half, almond butter, and honey to a blender.
  2. Blend ingredients until smooth.
  3. Pour into a glass and top with whipped cream as desired.
  4. Enjoy!

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients: Fortified Milk

High Calorie Drinks for Cancer Patients - Milk

Fortified milk is also known as double-strength milk or weight gain milk.

It can be made with any liquid milk, but whole milk is recommended to obtain the highest calories per serving. 

Powdered milk can be purchased in supermarkets, often near other dry and powdered drink mixes.

Fortified milk not only provides an average of 230-300 calories per serving, but it also provides additional nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s easy to mix using a 1-to-4 ratio of dry/powdered milk to milk.


  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup dry milk (dry whole milk will have the most calories)


  1. Mix or blend all ingredients with a spoon or in a shaker cup until smooth.
  2. Enjoy! 


High calorie drinks for cancer patients are an excellent way to support a healthy weight, immunity, and overall health before, during, and after treatment. Preventing malnutrition and dehydration is crucial to maintain the ability to continue treatments. 

With a wide variety of high calorie drink options, there is something that will appeal to and work for everyone. 

High calorie drinks can be consumed as a meal replacement or as a supplement to the diet. Talk to your physician or registered oncology dietitian about any specific precautions or restrictions there may be for your specific disease and treatment plan.

Stay Strong


  1. Lammersfeld, C. (2021). Nutrition for cancer patients: how to fuel your body for the fight. Cancer Treatment Centers of America. https://www.cancercenter.com/community/blog/2021/02/nutrition-for-cancer-patients
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2022). Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ)- patient version. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/appetite-loss/nutrition-pdq
  3. Levin, R., Byrne, D., & Voss, A. (2014). Oral nutrition supplements for improved outcomes. Abbott Nutrition & Oncology Nutrition DPG of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/THEACADEMY/5305c4a8-5a9a-419b-9f22-89c196d27453/UploadedImages/ON/Documents/Oral.pdf

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