Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment

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Swallowing problems

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Taste and smell changes

Cancer and its treatments can change your senses of taste and smell. These changes can affect your appetite and are often described as a bitter or metallic taste. If you are having these problems, try foods, marinades, spices, drinks, and ways of preparing foods that are different from those you usually use. Also, keep your mouth clean by rinsing and brushing, which may help foods taste better.

What to do

  • Try using plastic flatware and glass cups and plates.
  • Try sugar-free lemon drops, gum, or mints.
  • Try fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned.
  • Season foods with tart flavors like lemon wedges, lemonade, citrus fruits, vinegar, and pickled foods. (If you have a sore mouth or throat, do not do this.)
  • Try flavoring foods with new tastes or spices – with onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup, or mint.
  • Counter a salty taste with added sweeteners, sweet taste with added lemon juice and salt, and bitter taste with added sweeteners.
  • Rinse your mouth with baking soda and salt mouthwash before eating to help foods taste better. (Mix 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 quart water. Shake well before swishing and spitting.)
  • Keep your mouth clean and brush your teeth to help ease bad tastes.
  • Serve foods cold or at room temperature. This can decrease the foods’ tastes and smells, making them easier to tolerate.
  • Freeze fruits like cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, and watermelon, and eat them as frozen treats.
  • Eat fresh vegetables. They may be more tempting than canned or frozen ones.
  • Try marinating meats to make them tender.
  • If red meats taste strange, try other protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, eggs, or cheese.
  • Blend fresh fruits into shakes, ice cream, or yogurt.
  • To reduce smells, cover beverages and drink through a straw; choose foods that don’t need to be cooked; and avoid eating in rooms that are stuffy or too warm.

Last Medical Review: 06/09/2014
Last Revised: 06/09/2014