However, taste can be challenging during chemotherapy. Altered taste can potentially decrease overall intake resulting in weight loss and nutrient insufficiencies/deficiencies. Foods can have no taste or heightened sense of salty, sweet, bitter, or metallic. It may take time for taste to normalize following treatment. Caution: limit acidic foods and spices if mouth sores are present. As patients are at increased risk with a decreased immune system during cancer treatment, taste can also be altered due to oral infections.
- Encourage good oral hygiene
- Oral rinse that may be used before eating: 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. baking soda in 4 cups water. Rinse mouth with 1 cup 3-4 times/day. Sometimes a clean, fresh mouth can help food taste better
- If foods have no taste or an "off" taste
- Choose fruit marinades (try mango salsa on top of chicken or fish) or start your meal with a piece of fruit
- Use marinades, balsamic vinaigrette, flavorful salad dressings, or sweet-and-sour sauce
- To season foods try lemon, herbs & spices, pickles or hot sauce
- Try sugar free lemon drops, gum, or mints/mint tea to improve taste
- For bitter or metallic taste
- Eat with plastic or bamboo flatware or chopsticks
- Use spices or seasonings such as onion, garlic, chili powder
- Try tart flavors such as lemon, lime, citrus
- Flavor water with lemon or other fruits/fruit juices
- Sip on mint tea or suck on lemon drops
- For too salty, bitter, or acid flavor
- Use low sodium products
- Choose foods that are naturally sweet
- Meats taste "strange" or bitter
- Add fruit based marinades or sweet-and-sour sauce
- Choose alternative proteins such as eggs, tofu, dairy, beans, lentils, nuts
- Additional tips
- Consume a variety of cold foods (especially if smells are bothersome): smoothies, cold sandwiches, crackers with cheese, yogurt, and salads (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, pasta salad, seafood salad, fruit salad, and green salad)
- Freeze fruits to help with taste or as a frozen treat: cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, watermelon
- Zinc supplementation may be an option in a form to provide 50 mg elemental zinc. Limit to 60 days due to possible copper deficiency with long-term use
- Increase water/fluids for adequate hydration
Managing nutrition impact symptoms during cancer treatment is important to aid in a patient's ability to tolerate scheduled treatment. Other potential benefits include reduced infectious complications, delayed disease progression, managed body composition, and improved quality of life.
Speak with your health care provider about optimizing nutritional status and seek advice from a Registered Dietitian Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (CSO).
American Cancer Society. Taste and smell changes. Available at http://www.cancer.org/. Updated March 15, 2013. Accessed March 8, 2014.
Leser M, Ledesma N, Bergerson S, Trujillo E, eds. Oncology Nutrition for Clinical Practice. Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2013.