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Taste and Smell Changes

Cancer and cancer treatments may cause changes in taste and smell. Some people may notice bitter or metallic tastes in their mouth. These changes can negatively impact your appetite. Taste and smell can change daily.

  • Experiment with new cuisines, marinades, spices and ways of preparing what you eat.
  • If you are experiencing bitter or metallic tastes try the following: 1) use sugar-free lemon drops, gum or mints; 2) flavor foods with herbs, spices and sauces like onion, garlic, basil, chili powder, mint, BBQ sauce, mustard and rosemary; 3) use plastic flatware and glass cups and plates.
  • Season foods with tart flavors such as lemon wedges, vinegar or pickled foods. If your throat and mouth are sore then tart foods may cause discomfort.
  • If foods taste too salty, bitter or sour try adding sweetener or sugar.
  • If you cannot tolerate the taste of red meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal), try other protein sources like poultry, fish, eggs, yogurt, cheese, beans, tofu, soy milk and eggs. Try marinating and cooking red meats in sweet juices, fruits or acidic dressings. For example, try sweet-and-sour pork with pineapple.
  • Blend fruit juices into shakes using ice cream or yogurt.
  • Instead of canned fruits and vegetables, try fresh or frozen. Add blended fresh or frozen fruits to shakes or smoothies.
  • Cover beverages, such as nutrition supplements, with a lid and drink using a straw. Try using a child's covered drinking cup.
  • Try eating foods at room temperature or slightly chilled.
  • Avoid foods with strong odors. Choose foods that do not need to be cooked like cold sandwiches, crackers and cheese, yogurt with fruit or cereal with milk.
  • Avoid eating in rooms that are too warm and stuffy. Avoid environments that have strong food odors.
  • Maintain good oral care. Regularly brush your teeth and rinse your mouth. Rinse your mouth with a solution of 1 quart water, ¾ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Avoid mouth rinses containing alcohol.

These suggestions are not meant to replace talking to your doctor and registered dietitian. For more information regarding taste and smell changes, schedule an appointment with the Registered Dietitian at the UW Carbone Cancer Center by contacting Cancer Connect by calling (608) 265-1700.