Whether your food tastes metallic, bitter, too salty or too sweet, these quick fixes can help make mealtime more appetizing.
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and immunotherapy is taste change, which can create a barrier to getting the vital nutrients your body needs.
Most dietitians and doctors recommend taking a “food-first” approach to nutrition during treatment, which focuses on choosing foods high in essential nutrients to boost healing and recovery. But it can be difficult to maintain if you’re experiencing taste changes. Luckily, a few adjustments can help ease your symptoms by eating (and avoiding) certain foods.
Ways to Manage Taste Changes
Since there’s no way to manipulate the taste buds, you’ll have to work around them a bit. Good oral care is essential, but there are several ways you can adjust what you eat to combat taste changes.
If food tastes metallic
- Avoid red meat. Red meats often have a more metallic, mineral-like taste during treatment.
- Try new sources of protein. Lentils, eggs, beans, cheese, milkshakes, nuts, quinoa and peanut butter can be good alternatives.
- Eat less meat. Instead of meat as the main course, try a dish like spaghetti, lasagna, salads or casseroles.
- Drink more water. Sip on water before and during your meals.
- Suck on hard candies or gum. Mint, lemon and other hard candies can help keep your mouth fresh, while also minimizing the metallic taste.
- Use plastic utensils. Cooking in glass or ceramic dishes, rather than metal pans or pots, may also help.
If food lacks taste or flavor
- One of the quickest and easiest ways to make any food more flavorful is by sprinkling on herbs and spices.
- Marinades, dressings and fruit juices can be used to give meat and vegetables more flavor. Make sure to refrigerate the meat while it’s marinating.
- Tart is just about the strongest of all the tastes. If food lacks flavor, and you don’t have any mouth sores, try eating a citrus fruit or using citrus juice as a marinade.
- If you can tolerate them, adding small amounts of bacon, ham or onions can give your cooking a flavor boost. A little butter can go a long way in making food taste rich and flavorful. Just be careful not to add too much.
- Add oils, extracts or flavoring to increase the taste of food. If a recipe calls for water, opt for a more flavorful broth.
- Use your favorite condiments and sauces for dipping to improve the taste of bland-tasting food.
- Add cheese to a recipe to improve taste, as well as provide a little more protein and add extra calories.
If food tastes too sweet
- A pinch or two of salt can help balance foods that are overly sweet.
- Add lemon juice. Provided you don’t have any mouth sores, the bitter taste of lemon juice is another way to cut down the sweetness of food.
- Nutritional shakes can be an easy way to infuse your diet with calories and nutrients. Cut the sweet flavor by adding an extra scoop of plain yogurt or add more milk to the mixture.
- Sweet drinks like fruit juice, lemonade, ginger ale and sports drinks may taste better when dilulted with water.
- Butter is rich and flavorful without being sweet. Add it to oatmeal, pancakes and other foods you’d typically eat with jam or syrup.
If food tastes too salty
- Natural sweeteners like honey or agave nectar can increase sweetness and flavor and cut down a salty taste.
- Eat more fresh and dried fruits. The natural sugars in fruit have nutritional value and can help tame a salty palate. Add dried fruits to foods like cereal, oatmeal and salad.
- If a recipe calls for adding salt, you can usually skip it.
- Avoid cured meats and salty foods. These foods already taste salty and may be a little too intense.
- Avoid processed and canned foods, which are loaded with salt. That includes deli meat, sausage, bacon and frozen dinners. For a more balanced flavor, look for options with a low-sodium, reduced-sodium or no-salt-added label.
How Your Care Team Can Help
Taste changes are something you can prepare for with the help of your healthcare team. Be sure to discuss the types of taste changes you are experiencing and any specific triggers.
Your doctor can make dietary suggestions based on your health needs, and may refer you to a nutritionist or dietician to help create meal plans and ensure you’re getting the recommended nutrients.
Recipes to Help You Manage Taste Changes
Taste and smell alterations typically resolve themselves a few months after treatment ends. Now that you have a better idea of the types of food to eat and what to avoid to manage taste changes, you might try these tasty recipes.