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Changes in Smell and Taste

Some of these suggestions may not be appropriate if you are on a special diet versus a restricted diet.

Changes in Smell

  • To avoid cooking odors, purchase some prepared meals or use frozen convenience foods, prepared soups, cold luncheon meats, cheese and fruit.

  • Ask friends and family to help with food preparation.

  • Use the exhaust fan over your stove, if you have one. Keep rooms well ventilated and open windows when you can.

  • Try drinking liquids through a straw to minimize odor.

Changes in Taste

Cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation frequently cause changes to your taste for foods.

Although there is no specific treatment to cure taste, it is important to recognize this as potential symptom that can lead to decrease desire to eat and diminished caloric intake with potential weight loss.

Start with good mouth care, rinse or swish your mouth before meals with a mild salt water rinse - 1 cup of water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon salt or baking soda. You can also use ginger ale, warm tap water or non-alcohol containing mouthwash.

  • Eat when you are hungry, rather than at set mealtimes. Be flexible, even when not hungry aim for a small snack of fruit, juice, etc.

  • Choose foods that are at room temperature or cold (milkshakes, pudding, yogurt, gelatin, apple sauce, cheeses, luncheon meats, tuna salad, egg salad, peanut butter and jelly, canned fruits, fruit juices, cold beverages, cakes, cookies, muffins, cold cereal, ice cream, Popsicles).

  • Try sucking on sugar-free hard candies, mints, and chewing gum to eliminate bad taste.

  • Freeze fresh fruits, like berries, peaches and grapes, and add them to beverages.

  • Try using stronger seasonings, such as basil, oregano, curry, tarragon, mint, and rosemary.

  • Try using bacon, ham, or onion to add flavor to your favorite dishes.

  • If food tastes metallic, use plastic utensils and dishes instead of metal ones when possible.

  • Tart foods may overcome a metallic taste. Try orange, grapefruit, lemon, or cranberry juice; cranberry sauce; pickles; or relish.

  • Marinate your meat, chicken, or fish in sweet wine, Italian dressing, sweet-and-sour sauce, barbeque sauce, soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, or lemon juice. This helps to cut a metallic taste.

  • If red meat, such as beef, tastes or smells strange to you, be sure to include other good protein sources in your diet (chicken, turkey, eggs, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheeses, mild fish, ham, nuts, legumes, tofu).

  • Consider frozen vegetables in place of canned. Cook in the microwave. If using fresh vegetables, you can stir fry them with a small amount of sesame oil and wine vinegar.

  • If foods taste too sweet, try adding a little salt. If foods taste too salty, try adding a little sugar.

  • Experiment with new and different foods and flavors. Adding a few cranberries to a shake will make it tart. A vanilla shake can be enhanced with one to two teaspoons of instant coffee.

  • Try some of these delicious cold sources of protein:

    • Cottage cheese with pineapple or your favorite fruit

    • Fruited tofu - mash tofu then add a banana and berries for a festive treat

    • Vanilla yogurt with bananas or your favorite fruit

    • Shakes with milk or soymilk

  • The four basic tastes are sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Taste alterations that are common may include the following:
    • Lower threshold  for bitter taste causing an aversion to pork, beef, chocolate, coffee or tomatoes

    • Higher threshold for sweet taste so that more sugar is needed to achieve pre-illness taste; using fruit in heavy syrup or adding a little maple syrup to sauces  and cereals

    • Lower threshold for sweet foods manifested as aversions to sweets cakes, cookies, pies; aversions to sour foods citrus juices and tomato sauces 

    • Higher threshold for salt chips, pretzels, broths pickles

Revised 2010

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