Taste change during cancer treatment

Taste change is one of the biggest setbacks when it comes to cancer treatment. In some cases, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite is more than enough to put you off of eating, but then you also have the added side effect of food tasting different or not tasting like anything at all! We look at simple and practical ways to manage this.

Keep your doctor informed 

Your body needs nutrition, especially when undergoing rigorous cancer treatment. If you find that changes in taste and smell are limiting your food intake or causing significant weight loss, be sure to let your doctor know. Your health care team can recommend ways to increase your calorie intake through vitamin and mineral supplementation and protein shakes.

Rinse your mouth frequently

Rinsing can help prevent infections, improve the healing of mouth sores and neutralise bad tastes in the mouth. Try rinsing with a mild solution of water, baking soda and salt before meals. If this works temporarily, repeat the rinse halfway through a meal.

Visit your dentist

Dental problems, oral infections and dry mouth can affect the taste of food. Your dentist can check the health of your mouth, help you understand the oral side effects of cancer treatment, and provide rinses to fight infection in the mouth as well as medication to increase saliva production.

Chew sugar-free gum or mints 

If you have a bad taste in your mouth, try sugar-free mints or gum, hard candies, lemon drops, etc. This can also help control a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth and help relieve mouth dryness by stimulating saliva. Tea, ginger ale and sports drinks may also rid the mouth of bad tastes.

Eat small frequent meals

Instead of three large meals a day, try to eat small meals six to eight times    per day. To add calories and nutrients in between meals, eat healthy snacks throughout the day. Avoid cigarette smoking which can make taste changes worse.

Experiment with different foods

Eating can become more enjoyable when you’re open to trying new types of food. Choose and prepare foods that smell and taste good to you, even if they might be unfamiliar. Also, since your taste buds may change from day to day, keep a variety of food on hand. If food tastes metallic, use plastic utensils and glass cookware, and rather drink beverages from bottles and not from cans.

Eat food at the right temperature

Some food may taste better cold or chilled, rather than hot or heated up. Also, cold or room-temperature foods also have less of an aroma. If you do eat warm foods, try to eliminate bad cooking odours that can trigger nausea by using a kitchen exhaust fan, cooking on an outdoor grill, or buying precooked foods.

Add seasoning/spices to food

To improve the taste of your meals, flavour them with seasonings, herbs and spices e.g. sugar, lemon, mint, dill, basil, oregano, chilli powder, rosemary, garlic, ginger, salt or cinnamon. Try marinating meat, poultry or fish in fruit juices, sweet wines, salad dressing, vinegars, sauces and gravies.

Consult with a dietitian 

A dietitian can help you make changes in food choice and preparations to minimise the impact of taste changes and help you meet your calorie and protein needs. Your dietitian may recommend appetite stimulants or vitamins and supplements, such as zinc sulfate. If you can’t eat solid foods, your dietitian may recommend liquid or powdered meal replacements and shakes.

Written by Roxanne Fisher.