Taste changes

Food may taste unpleasant, bland or odd when you are having treatment for cancer

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and certain medications can affect the way foods and drinks taste, as can cancer itself. Food may taste unpleasant, bland or particularly metallic, sweet or salty. The good news is that taste changes are often temporary.

What can help?

Taking care of your mouth

Having a dry mouth can affect your sense of taste so try to drink plenty of fluids and keep your mouth and tongue clean by brushing regularly – using a soft-bristled toothbrush may be more comfortable. You may also want to see your dentist or oral hygienist to make sure that there aren’t any problems with your teeth or gums.

Choosing your food

  • It might help to eat what you enjoy and ignore what you don’t fancy for the time being. If a food you normally like tastes unpleasant, you could always try it again another time as your taste may change. Some people find that cold food tastes more pleasant than hot food.
  • If your food tastes metallic, it might help to avoid canned food and drink and to avoid cooking with metal pots and pans. You could also try using plastic cutlery and adding grated carrot, cinnamon or a little honey to your food to help sweeten it.

Adding flavour

Serving food with strong-flavoured condiments, such as pickles, mustard, vinegar, salad dressings or lemon juice can help make them more appealing, as could adding more flavour to your cooking by using herbs, spices, seasoning and marinades. You could:

  • Roast lean meat with strong herbs like rosemary, thyme and mint
  • Cook minced or diced lean meat with garlic, ginger or even cinnamon and nutmeg
  • Cook chicken and turkey with garlic, tarragon, basil, lemon juice or chilli
  • Cook fish with fennel, dill, pepper, lime, parsley or coriander
  • Spice up dishes with strong-flavoured vegetables, such as celery, onions, leeks and tomatoes
  • Sweeten desserts and breakfast foods such as porridge, with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg

If you also have a sore mouth, it’s probably best to avoid too much spice or spicy foods.

Choosing fresh tastes

Try sharp, fresh-tasting foods like lemon, and drinks such as bitter lemon. These may help stimulate your taste buds, increase the flow of saliva and get rid of any unpleasant tastes in your mouth. However, certain citrus fruits, particularly grapefruit, can affect the way some medications work so check with your doctor or pharmacist first.

Trying different textures

Experiment with different textures to see if they make things tastier – for example, you might prefer toasted bread and crackers to soft bread and potatoes. To add extra crunch, try sprinkling seeds or dried onion over savoury dishes, or chopped nuts over desserts. However, avoid doing this if your mouth is very dry or sore.

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