Changes in Taste and Smell

Northwest Montana Radiation Oncology
Cancer and cancer treatments can cause changes in the senses of taste and smell. These changes can affect your appetite. If you are having these problems, try foods, marinades, spices, drinks and ways of preparing foods that are different from ones you usually use. Also, keep your mouth clean by rinsing and brushing, which may help foods taste better.

Ways to Improve Taste

If you experience a bitter or metallic taste while eating:
  • Try using plastic flatware and glass cups and plates.
  • Try sugar-free lemon drops, gum or mints.
  • Try fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead of canned food.
  • Season foods with tart flavors like lemon wedges, lemonade, citrus fruits, vinegar and pickled foods. (If you have a sore mouth or throat, do not do this.)
  • Try flavoring foods with new tastes or spices like onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup or mint.
  • Counter a salty taste with added sweeteners; sweet taste with added lemon juice and salt; and bitter taste with added sweeteners.
  • Rinse your mouth with a baking soda and salt mouthwash before eating to help foods taste better. (Combine one quart water, one teaspoon baking soda and one teaspoon salt, mixed well before each use.)
  • Keep your mouth clean and brush your teeth to help ease bad tastes.
  • Serve foods cold or at room temperature. This can decrease the food tastes and smells, making them easier to tolerate.
  • Freeze fruits like cantaloupe, grapes, oranges and watermelon, and eat them as frozen treats.
  • Eat fresh vegetables. They may be more appetizing than canned or frozen veggies.
  • Try marinating meats to make them tender.
  • If red meat tastes strange, try other protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, eggs or cheese.
  • Blend fresh fruit into shakes, ice cream or yogurt.

Ways to Improve Smells

  • Cover beverages and drink through a straw.
  • Choose foods that do not need to be cooked.
  • Avoid eating in rooms that are stuffy or too warm.