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Food Just Doesn't Taste the Same

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or the cancer itself may cause food to taste different to cancer patients

Some people have a bitter or a metallic taste in their mouth. For others, food tastes "like nothing". People frequently say they no longer enjoy red meat. For others, the desire for sweets is gone. Taste preferences can change from day to day.

General Suggestions

  • Many foods, including meat and poultry, taste better if they are served cold or at room temperature instead of hot.
  • Eggs often taste good when the taste for meat is lost.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, pasta dishes, and milk products are often well tolerated.
  • Fruit sorbet, sherbet, and fruit smoothies usually taste good.
  • Tart foods with more distinctive tastes may be added to foods to help cover the metallic taste. Try adding orange, lime, or lemon juice or orange marmalade to fruit salad, salsa, sauces for pork or chicken, stir-fried or cooked vegetables, and oil-based salad dressing. Add vinegar, lemon juice, or pickles to creamy dressings for potato, macaroni, tuna, egg, or cole slaw salads. Lemon juice added to chicken broth, broth-based soup, gazpacho, or guacamole enhances the flavor.
  • Peel carrots before eating or cooking. This eliminates the bitterness that is quite noticeable to some people and makes them avoid eating carrots altogether. Try the "baby" carrots available in the produce section that are already peeled and cut.
  • If you do not have sores in your mouth, try using horseradish or any of the flavored mustards, such as Dijon, honey, sweet and sour, etc., to add flavor to your sandwiches and other foods.
  • Fruit juice popsicles often taste good. Make your own popsicles with your favorite juice flavors.
  • Rinse your mouth with fruit juice, wine, tea, ginger ale, club soda, or salted water before eating. This will help clear your taste buds.
  • You can sometime get rid of the strange taste in your mouth by eating foods that leave their own taste in your mouth, such as fresh fruit or hard candy. Suck on lemon drops or mints or chew gum after eating to get rid of the undesirable tastes that linger.
  • Try marinating meat or poultry in fruit juice, wine, vinegar-based salad dressing, or other sauces for more taste.
  • Experiment with spices and herbs. Some people find they like spicier foods at this time.
  • Experiment with new foods. Try foods or cuisines you may not have tried before.
  • If you are not neutropenic, eat out in restaurants that feature buffets. You can try small amounts of a variety of food without having to prepare it yourself.
  • Check with your dentist to rule out dental problems causing bad taste. Care for your mouth and teeth to prevent dental caries.

Things to Avoid

Do not force yourself to eat foods that taste bad. Instead, find substitutes for those foods. For example, if red meat doesn't taste right, select chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt, or tofu.

Avoid eating no-salt-added or low-salt varieties of canned soups or vegetables (unless you have high blood pressure and are instructed to do so by your physician). Soup and vegetables tend to have a metallic taste when the salt is eliminated in the processing.

Do not drink citrus juices such as orange or grapefruit immediately after brushing your teeth with fluoride toothpaste. The chemical mixture of fluoride with citric acid makes a rather unpleasant taste in your mouth.

If a metallic taste in your mouth persists, avoid using metal dishes and utensils. Try using plastic eating utensils, chopsticks, or porcelain Chinese soup spoons.

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcoholic beverages blunt and distort your ability to taste.

Alcohol also makes your mouth dry.

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