How to Make a Healthy Smoothie When You Have Cancer

Tips for blending powerful nutrients to aid treatment and recovery
woman making smoothie

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, your appetite may not be what it once was. Yet you need nourishment now more than ever to stay strong during treatment and throughout recovery.

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“Smoothies are a delicious way to build key nutrients into your diet,” says dietitian Mia DiGeronimo, RD, LD, an expert on nutrition for those who have cancer.

Here are tips for making smoothies with ingredients that boost strength and flavors that you’ll find appealing and easy on the stomach.

How to build your smoothie

The following combinations make about 2 servings each.

Choose your liquid

Use 2 cups of one of the liquids below:

  • Filtered water. A good choice for monitoring calories or making a milder tasting smoothie.
  • Coconut water. A natural rehydration beverage, packed with electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
  • Almond milk. This milk alternative is low-calorie and caffeine-free like water, but with a smooth silky texture.
  • Low-fat milk. A great source of electrolytes with protein added to the mix.
  • Fruit juice. A good choice for boosting calories or making a more robust, flavorful smoothie.

Try a mildly sweet fruit

Add 1 cup of slightly sweet, fiber-rich fruit to promote digestive health and to balance multiple flavors:

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  • Banana. A good source of potassium for healthy blood pressure and electrolyte balance.
  • Ripe pear. A good source of flavonols, which are heart-healthy antioxidant plant compounds.
  • Mango. An excellent source of immune-boosting vitamins A and C.

Add a dark-colored fruit

Include 1 cup of dark-colored fruit to take advantage of their cancer-fighting phytochemicals. These options all have heart-healthy antioxidant plant compounds:

  • Berries or cherries. Good sources of anthocyanin.
  • Watermelon. Good source of lycopene.
  • Red or purple grapes. Good source of resveratrol. 

Mix in some greens

Add 1 cup of tightly packed leafy greens to provide your body with B vitamins and iron to help reproduce blood cells, as well as other nutrients:

  • Spinach. A power veggie known for iron, but also high in potent antioxidant vitamin A.
  • Kale. A richly colored green and superfood high in antioxidant vitamins A and C.
  • Romaine lettuce. High in vitamin A and a very mild in taste, it might be an appealing option if you’ve never tried greens in a smoothie before.

Choose a protein

Try adding in some protein to stabilize your blood sugar:

  • Whole nuts or nut butters. Try adding 1 tablespoon of almonds, walnuts or natural peanut butter.
  • Greek yogurt. Use 4 ounces of unsweetened Greek yogurt for a smooth finish.
  • Protein powder. Add in 1/2 cup low-sugar protein powder. (Whey, hemp, rice or pea are all good options.)

Throw in some healthy fats

Did you know healthy fats help absorb nutrients as well as keep you feeling fuller, longer?

  • Chia or flax seeds. Spoon in 1 teaspoon of chia or flax seeds, which aid in lowering blood pressure and are loaded with antioxidants, protein, iron and calcium.
  • Avocado. Slice up 1 ripe avocado, which is high in oleic acid, an anti-inflammatory, as well as high in fiber.
  • Coconut oil. Scoop 1 tablespoon of coconut oil into your smoothie, which is known to raise good cholesterol (HDL) and aid in heart health.

Bonus calorie-boosting add-ins

If you’re looking for more ways to get your calorie count up, you can always add any of these ingredients:

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  • Ice cream. Choose one scoop of an ice cream flavor that blends well with the other ingredients in your smoothie.
  • Olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon for a smoother, healthier smoothie. A drizzle a day keeps the doctor away!
  • Honey. A healthier alternative to most smoothie sweeteners, try adding 1 tablespoon.
  • Coconut cream. Another healthy fat that adds calories to your smoothie with just 1 tablespoon.
  • Powdered milk. A great source of vitamin E, which aids in skin, nail and hair health. Scoop in 1 tablespoon.

Have an upset stomach?

If you’re feeling nauseous or have an upset stomach from treatment, try adding in:

  • Plain yogurt. A good source of probiotics, which are gut-healthy bacteria.
  • Fresh mint. Try 4 to 6 leaves.
  • Freshly grated ginger. 2 teaspoons should do it.
  • Lemon zest. Half a teaspoon can act as a natural tummy soother.

A friendly reminder

It’s important to keep in mind that nutrition is very individualized for everyone, especially for those with cancer.

Smoothie recipes should be modified based on your preferences, what you can tolerate, and cater to different side effects you’re experiencing from chemotherapy or radiation.

“It can be difficult to find the right smoothie ingredient combination, especially if you’re just getting started with treatment,” says DiGeronimo. If patients are struggling with what to eat, they should make an appointment with a registered dietitian.

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