What are the best meal replacement drinks for cancer patients?
Calories and protein are important.
When you are undergoing cancer treatments, your calorie and protein needs are higher. This is because one of the side effects of treatment is reduced appetite. Reduced appetite can cause weight and strength loss and as your body starts to break down muscle for energy. Eating enough calories and protein can stop or slow this process. It can also help your body fight infections, heal wounds, and recover.
The amount of calories and protein that you need to eat depends upon your body weight, but most people need 25 to 35 calories per kilogram of weight and 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This can easily amount to over 3000 calories and 100 grams of protein per day, depending on who you are. Although many cancer patients can meet these goals with normal food, some cannot due to reduced appetite, difficulty swallowing, etc. High protein meal replacements (at least 20 grams of protein per serving) are a great option for these people.
That said, most meal replacements shake are NOT good for cancer patients. There are two types of meal replacement shakes, ready-to-drink (store-bought) shakes, and shakes made with meal replacement powder. In order to make a shake with meal replacement powder, you have to mix the powder with milk or water. This requires a blender or a shaker bottle, and a little extra time and effort. Some people prefer ready-to-drink shakes because they are more convenient, but if they knew what they were drinking, they would probably vomit.
Ready-to-drink meal replacement shakes are full of food additives like emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners. Ingredients like these improve characteristics like shelf stability and texture, but look nothing like real food and are therefore hard to digest. This is why I recommend that you make your own shakes with powder. That said, not all meal replacement powders are created equal, and many contain the same additives found in ready-to-drink shakes! Keep reading to learn more.
Avoid food additives.
Again, most meal replacements are full of food additives. Although not necessarily bad for you in small quantities, additives can add up quickly (especially if you drink a meal replacement shake every day) and cause gastrointestinal (GI) side effects like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This is because food additives are, generally speaking, hard to digest. They sit in your gut for longer than food should, which gives your gut bacteria more time to eat. As they eat, these bacteria produce gas, which causes bloating and stomach pain. Gas also slows colonic transit (the amount of time it takes food to travel through the colon) and can lead to constipation.
In the long term, food additives can disrupt regulatory pathways in the intestine, which can result in the development of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and systemic inflammatory disorders. Artificial sweeteners are among the most harmful additives in the long term as they alter the composition of your gut microbiota (the collection of microorganisms that help you digest food). This can lead to serious, chronic GI problems, widespread inflammation, and permanent damage to the gut microbiome. Some sweeteners, especially sugar alcohols like xylitol, are also poorly absorbed by the gut (meaning they feed those hungry gut bacteria) and cause diarrhea because they draw water into your intestine. Now you finally have something to blame for those post-meal replacement shake trips to the bathroom!
Here is a list of the most common food additives in meal replacements:
acacia gum, acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, aspartame, carob bean gum, carrageenan, cellulose gum, dextrin, dextrose, erythritol, gellan gum, guar gum, gum arabic, inulin, locust bean gum, “natural” flavors, maltodextrin, rice syrup solids, soy lecithin, silica, sucralose, sunflower lecithin, xanthan gum, xylitol
When it comes to identifying food additives, go with your gut. 😉 As a rule of thumb, they are the ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Food additives are not the only thing to look out for when buying cancer meal replacement drinks, however. There are several other ingredients that can upset your stomach.
egg whites, almonds, oats, coconut, cocoa, monk fruit
Dairy-based proteins like whey and casein, which are byproducts of cheese and yogurt production, are known to cause digestive issues, especially for people with lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Over one in three Americans are lactose intolerant, and the prevalence of IBS is somewhere between 10 and 15 percent in the United States. It follows that you may be lactose intolerant or have IBS and not even know it. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition, and it is unclear why dairy triggers symptoms. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is clearly understood. People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest lactose, the sugar in dairy. As you just learned, partially digested food feeds the bacteria in your gut, which produce gas.
Avoid protein concentrates and isolates.
Finding an additive-free, dairy-free meal replacement is hard. Finding an additive-free, dairy-free meal replacement made with real foods is next to impossible. Why? Most meal replacements are made with protein concentrates and isolates, foods stripped of everything but the protein. They are listed on the ingredient list as “pea protein,” for example, as opposed to “peas.” We will not go into the details, but protein concentrates and isolates undergo heavy mechanical and chemical processing before becoming meal replacement. Sometimes, manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane to isolate (separate) the protein from the food. This means that what you end up putting into your body looks nothing like real food. The potential problem here is that your gut might not know what to do with ingredients like these. Your gut prefers the real thing, not some heavily-processed imitation, so protein concentrates and isolates might be hard to digest for people with sensitive stomachs.
Instead of protein concentrates or isolates, we use high protein, minimally-processed ingredients like egg whites and almonds. Unless you have a sensitivity or allergy to eggs, egg white protein is the best protein for people with sensitive stomachs. Egg whites are low in fiber, low-FODMAP, and have the highest protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of any whole food. Our customers have experienced fewer digestive issues with egg white protein than with any other type of protein. We also like almonds because they are low-FODMAP and gut-friendly. Research suggests that almonds can improve the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome. Research also suggests that almonds possess prebiotic properties, meaning they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
“I just finished my first bag and ordered 2 more! I Iove this stuff! I have a sensitive stomach and every meal replacement powder makes me bloated…except drink wholesome!”
Why drink wholesome?
Our meal replacement powders are additive-free, dairy-free, and made with real foods, not protein isolates. They are perfect for people with gut issues and sensitive stomachs, as well as for people just looking for a delicious meal without the processing and added junk.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.