You may think that not having an appetite is a good thing, but a poor appetite and intake can be as detrimental to your health as eating too much.
While there's no one food to aid appetite loss, making a few tweaks to your diet may improve the nutritional quality of what you're eating to improve health, prevent unwanted weight loss and keep your energy levels up.
What Happened to My Appetite?
Medically, your lack of appetite is referred to as anorexia, not to be confused with anorexia nervosa, which is an eating disorder in which you purposely restrict caloric intake to maintain a low body weight. Not having a desire to eat may develop from a physical or emotional cause. In either case, you should consult with your health care provider who can identify the underlying health issue and provide the most appropriate loss of appetite treatment.
According to MedlinePlus, loss of appetite may be due to depression or anxiety, or it can be a symptom of a chronic illness such as liver disease or cancer. Certain medications may also affect your desire to eat. The elderly are especially vulnerable to appetite loss, which often develops from no known cause.
Know Your Needs
There's no special diet or food to aid appetite, but you should eat a healthy balanced diet that provides enough calories and protein to prevent your body from using your muscles for fuel, which can zap your energy and impair your health. Your specific dietary needs, including calories and protein, may depend on your age, gender, body size, medical needs and activity.
Many chronic diseases put you in a catabolic state, which means you're burning more calories than normal, and you need to eat even more to prevent muscle loss. Your health care provider can determine your specific needs based on the parameters noted above. In general, you may need 1,600 to 3,000 calories a day, with 10 to 35 percent of those calories coming from protein.
Foods to Aid Appetite Loss
Under normal circumstances, the smell of bread baking or the thought of eating a special meal may be all you need to kick your appetite into high gear. However, if you're suffering from a poor appetite, no food or smell seems to trigger your hunger. But you may find certain foods more palatable than others.
According to the American Cancer Society, you can combat your poor appetite and get the nutrition your body needs for good health by combining starches with high-protein foods. For example, adding cheese to your baked potato, peanut butter to your toast or chicken to your pasta. These foods have a fairly mild flavor and are easy to eat and digest.
Other foods you can add to your repertoire to beef up your nutrition and support your health include:
- Whole milk
- Heavy cream
- Greek yogurt
- Nuts and seeds (and their butters)
- Powdered milk
- Peas and beans
Powdered milk is a versatile mix-in that can boost calories in your food to maximize the caloric content of every bite. One tablespoon of nonfat dried milk powder has 70 calories and 7 grams of protein. It's also an excellent source of calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Powdered milk can be added to hot cereal, soup, yogurt, pudding, meatloaf, casseroles, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.
Drink Your Calories
If you're having a hard time eating foods to aid appetite loss, consider drinks instead. Water is always the best choice when it comes to hydration, but when you're struggling with a poor appetite you may be better off with other drinks, such as juice or milk, to add extra calories along with the fluids. You can boost the caloric and protein content of regular milk by adding a couple tablespoons of powdered milk too.
Nutritional supplements are also a good option. These drinks are calorie dense, ranging from 250 to 350 calories per 8-ounce container, high in protein and a good source of many essential vitamins and minerals. You can find ready-to-go drinks or a powdered form that you mix with liquid.
If you're not keen on nutritional supplements, consider making your own shakes or smoothies. Blend together milk or plant-milk substitute with bananas, powdered milk or protein powder and peanut butter. Or try tofu blended with frozen blueberries and apple juice.
Read more: The Best Weight Gain Supplements for Women
Strategies to Pack in Calories
Getting the nutrition you need is more about developing meal strategies than eating a specific food to aid appetite. It's not uncommon to feel a little overwhelmed with food and meals when you don't have a desire to eat. Instead of three large meals, consider eating several small meals throughout the day. Limiting your liquid intake at meal time may also help leave more room for solid food.
You also want to maximize the nutrition in every bite by including nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods as often as possible. Many of these foods have been mentioned already, including nuts and nut butters, cheese and powdered milk. But you can also add calories with olive oil, butter, gravies, avocados, seeds and dried fruit.
You may also find you have more of an appetite when you're relaxed. So do your best to create a pleasant ambiance while you're eating by listening to music, dimming the lights or eating with friends or family.
Read more: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You
The Flip Side: Appetite Suppressants
Lack of appetite often results from an underlying medical condition, but if you're trying to lose weight, you may wish there were natural appetite suppressant foods for weight loss that could tame your hunger. Even with the best of intentions and a strong willpower, you may find it hard to lose unwanted pounds because your hunger gets in the way.
Just like there's no one food to aid appetite loss, there isn't any one food that can suppress your appetite. However, foods high in protein and fiber tend to keep you feeling full longer and may aid in appetite control for weight loss. Protein stimulates the hunger-suppressing hormones in your stomach to help you eat less, while fiber delays stomach emptying, which may keep the hunger pangs away. Legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils, are especially helpful at suppressing the appetite, according to a March 2016 meta-analysis published in the_ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition_.
Read more: The 12 Worst Foods for Appetite Control
Filling your diet with foods that are high in fiber and protein may help keep your appetite in check, but you may also be tempted to try an appetite suppressant tea or supplement. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, not much is known about how effective weight-loss supplements are for suppressing the appetite, and they may come with unpleasant side effects. If you're thinking an appetite suppressant tea or supplement is something you want to try to help you drop those unwanted pounds, talk to your health care provider first.
- MedlinePlus: "Appetite"
- National Eating Disorders Association: "Anorexia Nervosa"
- American Cancer Society: "Poor Appetite"
- University of Michigan Health System: "High-Calorie and High-Protein Ideas"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs Per Day by Age, Sex and Physical Activity"
- National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids"
- USDA Food Nutrient Database: "Milk, Dry, Nonfat, Regular, With Added Vitamin A and Vitamin D"
- University of California, San Francisco: "ILD Nutritional Manual: High-Calorie Shakes and Smoothies"
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: "Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Dietary Pulse Consumption on Body Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"