Just tell me what to eat so I don't have to think about it.
April 30, 2012 1:03 PM   Subscribe

What's the best/easiest way to increase my protein intake when eating is difficult for various complicated reasons?

I am starting chemotherapy in two weeks for my second ovarian cancer recurrence in less than two years. To manage the associated anxiety, I am taking Wellbutrin, Celexa and Oxazepam daily. The combo (particularly the Celexa) has killed my appetite and made me pretty food-averse. Switching to something else is not an option. I've lost about 14 pounds in the four weeks since I started Celexa but I need to slow down/halt the weight loss before I start chemo. I also need to increase my protein intake to 90-110g a day (ideally the higher end of that) while undergoing chemo.

That seems like an unobtainable goal right now and it's just going to get harder once I start treatment. Meat and eggs are mostly intolerable. I can't eat a lot of soy. I can't have whey or casein protein powder. I can only eat a small amount of legumes a day (1/2 a cup, maybe a full cup depending on the preparation).

Adding protein seems pretty daunting since I don't want or can't have most high protein things that I can think of.

Typical food for a day is a piece of toast with goat cheese and tomato, an apple, and a bowl of something for dinner (last couple of days it's been about a cup and a half of whole grain pasta with a kale+walnut pesto and roasted vegetables). I'm eating the same thing every day with occasional variation in dinner.

What are the most protein-dense foods I can add? Simpler is better. I'm interested in snacks/small things. I don't mind having to prepare something, as long as it is something I can prepare and snack on for days, so recipes are welcome. I'm not worried about gaining weight at this point, just stopping the weight loss.
posted by Felicity Rilke to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken with a nutritionist/dietitian who is familiar with the nutritional needs of people undergoing chemotherapy?
posted by dfriedman at 1:06 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Perhaps greek yogurt?
posted by procrastination at 1:10 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are both pretty protein dense and might be more appetizing than meat or eggs. Yogurt in particular can be blended with fruit, ice, honey, juice, whatever your heart desires to make a sippable smoothie that you can graze on throughout the day, even if you're not really hungry enough to tuck into a bowl of the stuff.
posted by telegraph at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're struggling to get enough food over all and need to keep weight on, do not shy away from full fat yogurt and cottage cheese! Whole milk is also a great way to keep weight on and get some protein if you can tolerate lactose.
posted by telegraph at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

My mother-in-law had a very similar issue. Seconding dfriedman's suggestion of meeting with a dietitian; your oncologist's office should have recommendations for some good people.

Turkey jerky from Trader Joe's is a very simple, non-nauseating source of protein for me right now (I am dealing with severe nausea and vomiting because of a different medical issue). Hummus and tahini are another go-to.

Would hemp protein or rice protein added to nut milk as a shake be an option for you? Most health food stores carry those as protein powders.

People had some great ideas in my high-protein midnight snack thread.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:13 PM on April 30, 2012

I have a nutritionist friend who swears by this product: http://www.amazon.com/Olympian-Lab-Protein-Chocolate-Container/ She mixes it with almond butter to make her own protein bars, or with almond milk or water for a shake.
posted by cardamom at 1:16 PM on April 30, 2012

Ensure with added protein is a good source. It is a bit sweet, I am not sure if that is a concern. Boost will give you protein as well, but with less fat which hopefully lets you have an appetite. I read that either one has less than 2% of their protein from soy. My mother's friend (who is 81 years old) is dying of cancer and Ensure with added protein was what her doctors wanted her to drink to increase her protein intake. My mother's friend has been a cancer survivor for over fifty years!

I also like Greek yogurt as a source of protein, but not sure what it will be like with your taste buds all crazy due to the chemotherapy.

I wish you a quick recovery with your therapy.
posted by Yellow at 1:22 PM on April 30, 2012

Response by poster: Just to address the nutritionist point -- I have met (a few times) with cancer nutritionists, but they sadly haven't been great for suggesting protein options for someone who doesn't eat meat and shouldn't eat soy.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2012

Smoothies with Greek yogurt can hit 22 grams of protein. You can add frozen berries or fresh fruit, some frozen OJ concentrate, and some water and ice and it's appealing and might even be pleasant to eat. If you get bananas and they turn dark, you can chop them into chunks and throw them into the freezer and use those too. The yogurt has a mildly tart taste, it's not unpleasant, but adding the OJ concentrate (which you can buy with added calcium) and berries or other fruits make it nicer. If you do this with bagged frozen fruit it is just really a matter of grabbing a handful of this and a handful of that, throwing in a little ice, water, and the yogurt, and it's quite good.

Skim milk has about 8 grams. If you heat it in a pan in the morning and then add coffee to it, you can have a latte type of thing and with the smoothie you'll be over thirty grams in the AM.

I am sorry that you're going through this.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2012

Something I've thought of doing myself, but haven't yet tried (I'm not sick, I just don't get enough protein and don't particularly like most forms of it) is make fruit/juice smoothies with added rice protein powder. Apparently people who can't have other protein powders can have that. Best of luck with your treatment.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:27 PM on April 30, 2012

The oil-roasted almonds sitting in front of me have 6 g of protein per 1/4 cup, along with a good dose of fat (16g). Good way to get your calorie count up through the day. Same with peanut butter. (If you're like me, though, veggie protein just doesn't work the same as animal protein.)

Here are some egg-based protein powders.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2012

Just saw this today.
posted by tayknight at 1:39 PM on April 30, 2012

A few other decent protein options... As far as natural foods you may want to look into the healthy things with fat including nuts, nut butters, avocado and that old staple, lentils. There are ways to dress up lentils so they're actually pretty savory [think of indian foods like dal] and adding butter. Also if you're having troubles with foods generally, you might want to go for something really simple like overnight oatmeal [add greek yogurt and some milk, toss in a jar in the fridge overnight, have some palatable mush in the morning, very little clean up or time spent]

If you're in the manufactured foods realm, really high protein stuff includes Atkins bars and cereals like Kashi's Go Lean or Benefit Nutrition's Protein Plus. They're both pretty soy-heavy I think and maybe not ideal, but worth understanding options.
posted by jessamyn at 1:40 PM on April 30, 2012

You said no whey protein powder so I am not sure if seitan would work for you. Imagine tofu made from wheat gluten, that's basically it.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:46 PM on April 30, 2012

I made this comment yesterday on another food request question -- not sure what's in the broth, but hopefully it (or maybe other recipes in the book it's from?) will help with the protein situation. All the best to you as you go through treatment.
posted by pised at 1:47 PM on April 30, 2012

Here's a list of raw vegan protein powders. Maybe hemp or pea powders would do it for you.
posted by vespabelle at 1:52 PM on April 30, 2012

I have had issues with my appetite/nausea for various reasons. Sometimes I'll just make a huge bag of trailmix that has all my favorite kind of nuts and seeds and dried fruit - almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, dried blueberries, cherries and cranberries and maybe a few chocolate chips. I find I can always choke down an almond or a dried blueberry.

Also: cheese. I eat way too much cheese because sometimes that is all I can eat. It can get expensive, but things like bocconcini or ricotta are easy to eat for me - maybe with some fancy crackers and a few leaves of fresh basil, but if I need to choke something down sometimes I'll just eat a ball or three of bocconcini straight out of the container.

Oh, and larabars are good too, basically trailmix in a bar form.
posted by smartypantz at 1:53 PM on April 30, 2012

Would you be able to tolerate chocolate pudding? You can make the instant or cook kind with whole milk for more calories, and you could make all the different kinds for variety.

I really love Greek yogurt as others have said! I often mix some milk and greek yogurt together with chocolate pudding mix, cocoa powder, cinnamon, almond butter, and sometimes a little extra sweetener, a sprinkle of oats, and sometimes a spoonful of almond or peanut butter. (I like stevia, but your could do sugar/agave nectar, or whatever). The greek yogurt makes it really thick and creamy, almost like a chocolate mousse.

If you look at whole grain bagels or bread, good ones sometimes have 5-6 grams of protein per slice. It's an easy way to add a few extra grams.

I really like to have peanut butter and baby carrots together. It sounds weird, but it's good!

Do garbanzo beans count as a legume? You can make fake cookie dough with a can of garbanzo beans, sweetener to taste, a little vanilla or almond extract, cinnamon, nutritional yeast, and a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter. Mash it all together or throw it in the food processor til creamy, then add chocolate chips or nuts or whatever you like in your cookies.

Best wishes for a good recovery.
posted by shortyJBot at 2:14 PM on April 30, 2012

Oats and quinoa are fairly high in protein, moreso than other grains. You mat be able to find textured vegetable protein from a non-soy source.

Drinking your calories will help a lot, since it doesn't seem to trigger the satiety mechanisms as much.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:16 PM on April 30, 2012

Oh, heavens, and if you can eat chocolate pudding, maybe you can eat the Petits Suisses de Montebourg, which are amazing high-fat yogurt cheese thingies with chocolate flavoring.

Or the Kraft cream cheese with chocolate, which I just eat out of the tub with a spoon as a way to pack extra protein into my dessert eating.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:21 PM on April 30, 2012

Try replacing your rice or pasta with quinoa. It is one of the most nutrient-rich grains, and is high in protein. You can make it very easily in a rice cooker. I eat it like rice or pasta, or throw leftover quinoa into things like chili, cookies, soup, or sauces for some extra protein and texture.

Different curry recipes use yogurt and/or coconut milk in their sauces.

You can also eat more almonds. I love throwing unsalted roasted almonds in some full-fat Greek yogurt with honey. Heaven!

And I totally agree with all of the above comments encouraging you to drink your extra protein. Plus if you have a good blender and you blend frozen bananas within an inch of their life, they turn into delicious banana ice cream.

Best of luck!
posted by stompadour at 2:27 PM on April 30, 2012

Brown rice protein powder is chalky but, in my experience, easy to digest, and very easy to prepare with a shaker bottle. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds also have protein and unsaturated fats, as does tahini (which is great applied to sandwiches, or even straight). You can also sprinkle hemp seed on things if you don't find the taste too objectionable. (Hemp milk is, unfortunately, nasty.) Lots of well-wishes.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:41 PM on April 30, 2012

A quarter-cup of PB2 has 10 g protein and could easily disappear into a smoothie. It's also good when mixed into oatmeal, baked into pancakes, etc.
posted by lakeroon at 5:18 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check the labels, but I believe fuller-fat yogurt has more protein than lower-fat. Hunt around to figure out which brand/fat level is going to give you the best bang for your buck.

If you're eating an apple, can you cut it up and put nut butter on the slices?

Lara bars are indeed yummy and about as easy as it gets - a typical one is made from just cashew+date. They are not super-proteiny, they have 3-6 g protein per bar.

Mushrooms also have protein, though again not tons. They're a very versatile ingredient though. You could maybe make a veggie meatball mix from ground mushrooms+ nuts, and freeze them for easy heating up, as many as you want at a time.

Sesame seeds are good for protein; I hear people saying the same about chia seeds. Might look for ways to incorporate these - into salads, smoothies, "veggie burger" type things, or baked into crackers/cookies/muffins.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:13 PM on April 30, 2012

I was going to suggest what stompadour said about replacing your pasta with quinoa. I also love quinoa added to canned soup such as Amy's Vegetable Barley. I usually cook it in vegetable broth instead of water for a little more flavor.

I am also slightly obsessed with almond butter, which I eat on sprouted wheat toast or just out of the jar, but you could also put it on your apple.

Nutritional yeast is great because you can just sprinkle it on top of whatever you're eating, and it will add like 8 grams of protein plus amino acids, etc. It tastes kind of like parmesan cheese but it's vegan.

Lifetime's Basics Plant Protein in Unsweetened Vanilla is my favorite protein powder for smoothies, and it's free of soy, whey, and just about everything else you can think of. Maybe you could make a nice light smoothie with ice, almond or hemp milk, banana, honey, and protein powder? You could also throw in a scoop of almond butter and some cacao nibs, which add even more protein plus antioxidants.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this and I wish you all the best.
posted by désoeuvrée at 9:05 PM on April 30, 2012

Oh and this recipe for quinoa-stuffed red peppers is my all-time favorite meal ever and is pretty light/snackable and freezes well.
posted by désoeuvrée at 9:10 PM on April 30, 2012

I'm pregnant and animal forms of protein make me sick unless they are thinned out. I can handle chicken broth. I can't handle chicken. What I do is make a lentil soup that is mostly composed of chicken broth. It still makes me queasy, but I can keep it down.

Most of my protein, however, comes from hummus and peanut butter. I dip apple slices into peanut butter, and carrots and broccoli into my hummus. I make my hummus fairly bland so that it doesn't cause any problems. I also snack on a variety of nuts, including pistachios and almonds, but peanut butter has kept me alive.
posted by avagoyle at 8:06 AM on May 1, 2012

I can't have soy, wheat, or dairy and also need to consume more protein. I've been recommended to use a pea based protein (tastes sort of like split-pea soup)...just type in "allergen free protein" on amazon, and you will get a few choices. It's really easy on the tummy, although not very appetizing.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 7:12 PM on May 2, 2012

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