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Taste Changes During Cancer Treatment

Nutritional management of treatment side effects

There is more to nutrition during cancer and cancer therapy than getting enough calories and protein. The foods you choose also help you cope with side effects. Side effects from cancer treatment include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chewing and swallowing problems, and taste changes.

Each person is different, so is their reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe or mild. Or you may not have any. Talk with your cancer care team about possible side effects before treatment begins.

Managing taste changes

Sometimes, cancer treatment causes temporary changes in the way foods taste. Some foods might taste metallic, bland, or have other unpleasant tastes. Taste changes can affect your appetite and desire for food. Here are some ways to make food taste more desirable:

  • Eat with plastic utensils and use nonmetal cooking dishes if food tastes metallic.

  • Choose and prepare foods that look and smell good to you.

  • If red meat, such as beef, tastes or smells strange, try chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products, or mild-tasting fish instead.

  • Marinate meats with sweet marinades or sauces.

  • Try tart foods that contain oranges or lemons. These may have more taste. A tart lemon custard might taste good and will also provide needed protein and calories. But if you have a sore mouth or throat, tart or citrus foods might cause pain or discomfort.

  • If smells bother you, try serving foods cold or at room temperature, turning on a kitchen fan, covering foods when cooking, and cooking outdoors in good weather.

  • Try using bacon, ham, or onion to add flavor to vegetables.

  • Visit your dentist to rule out dental problems that may affect the taste or smell of food.

  • If foods taste bland, use extra seasonings, spices, and flavorings.

  • Drink lemon or other tart-flavored drinks to stimulate saliva and taste, unless mouth sores are a problem.

  • Keep your mouth clean by rinsing and brushing your teeth daily.

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