What to do when food tastes weird during treatment

June 22, 2022 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

Sometimes, it can seem like the side effects from cancer and its treatment are endless. From kicking chemo brain to dealing with hair loss and managing insomnia, managing cancer-related side effects is an ongoing challenge. What do you do if your taste in foods has changed too?

If food is no longer appetizing to you, tastes bitter, metallic, bland, or tastes the same, try mixing up your cooking routine and experimenting with foods, marinates, spices or drinks that are different than what you normally eat.

The American Cancer Society recommends you:

  • Try sugar-free lemon drops, gum or mints.
  • Try fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, instead of canned and marinating meats to make them tender.
  • Season foods with tart flavors like lemon wedges, lemonade, citrus fruits, vinegar, and pickled foods (unless you have a sore mouth or throat).
  • 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.
  • Freeze fruits like cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, and watermelon, and eat them as frozen treats or blend fresh fruits into shakes, ice cream or yogurts.
  • Try other protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, eggs or cheese.

It may also help to pay close attention to where and how you’re eating. Instead of eating with your normal dinnerware, try plastic flatware, cups and plates (especially if foods taste metallic). Avoid eating in a room that is too stuffy or too warm, and serve foods cold or at room temperature so they are easier to tolerate.

If you are still having trouble:

  • Keep your mouth clean by brushing your teeth before and after meals to help ease bad tastes.
  • Rinse your mouth with a baking soda, salt and water mouthwash before eating to help foods taste better, prevent infections and improve the healing of mouth sores. (You can do this by mixing one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of baking soda in one quart water. Shake well before swishing and spitting.)

Taste changes can lead to weight loss and loss of appetite. If food isn’t appealing to you, talk to your cancer team. Your care team can recommend a specific diet to make sure you stay nourished throughout your treatment.

Learn about cancer services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get flavorful, nutritious Healthy Driven recipes.

Related blogs:

10 ways to help control nausea during chemotherapy

Foods to avoid during cancer treatment

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