Taste plays a vital role in choosing your food and is part of the reason you derive pleasure from eating and drinking. Your cancer treatment can affect your sense of taste causing your food to; lack flavour, taste too sweet, salty or metallic.
Normally these changes are temporary and will begin to improve over time but it can be hard to maintain your calorie intake and meet your body’s protein, vitamin and mineral needs. There are things you can to do to help make food tastier while living with cancer, and here are recommendations from experts and people living with cancer.
If food lacks flavour
It can be frustrating when your food lacks taste and becomes less appetising to eat. A way to add flavour is to try different herbs, spices, sauces or stronger ingredients. Herb and spices that have been recommended are; ginger, lemongrass,basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and mint. You can enhance the flavour further with gravy and different sauces, even something as easy as barbecue sauce can make a big difference. Marinating your food overnight increases the depth of flavour and you can prepare it in minutes. Ideally pop your marinated dish in the fridge overnight to infuse but even ten minutes should enrich the taste!
Lastly, throw in some strong flavoured ingredients to your meals including; chopped onions and garlic (try pre-prepared if you don’t feel like chopping) strong cheeses or smoked ham. For more ideas read Healthy Eating During Chemotherapy by Jose Van Mil.
If food tastes too sweet
Sometimes everything can taste too sweet like someone has poured tablespoons of sugar on. A way to reduce the sweetness is to make food more bitter by adding a citrus fruit, like lemon juice. You can also add citrus fruit to drinks or try diluted fruit juice, milk, buttermilk or ginger ale. If you want to have a dessert less sweet options include yogurt, rice pudding with blueberry sauce or carrot muffins.
Ensuring you consume enough calories throughout your day is important some of your ideas for snacks were; pumpkin seeds, cottage cheese and scrambled egg. Don’t forget to experiment and do what works for you! Margaret said “I hold herbal tea in my mouth for a few minutes before eating, it reduces the sweet taste for me.” Find inspiration and recipes in the Nourish: The Cancer Care Cookbook by Penny Brohn Cancer Care
If food tastes too salty
Food can taste as if someone has dropped the salt cellar into your food, yet you see others reaching for more. A way to mask the salty flavor is by adding sugar to foods like soups, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad dressings and casseroles. The acidity in lemon juice may also do the trick to offset the overly-salty taste of a dish. Try other citrus juices as well, which lend a bit of tartness and sweetness. It can be second nature to reach for salt without thinking so remember not to add it to food or seasonings. For more suggestions and recipes read Cooking for Chemo with Chef Ryan Callahan based on his experience of cooking for his mother.
If meat doesn’t taste right
If your meat is fresh and cooked properly, but simply doesn’t taste right, serve other foods that contain protein, such as; fresh or frozen fish, lentils, chicken, beans and peas.
If you want to eat meat you can try to adapt the taste by introducing other flavours and textures. There are also sorts of dishes to choose from such as; chili, lasagna, spaghetti sauce. thick soups, stews and casseroles. As well as different ways to flavour the meat including; marinating it, using soy sauce or drizzling a dressing on. Again experimenting is important to see what works for you. Try different types of meats from salty to spicy to smoked. Also, try meats that may taste better cold or at room temperature like ham or roast beef.
For recipes, try our beautiful, unique cookbook written by members of our cancer community – the Eat Better With Cancer Cookbook. It’s full of recipes from people who have gone through treatment themselves, and know just how to get round those weird taste and appetite side effects.
If food tastes metallic
Metallic taste is a very common side effect of cancer treatment. Some people refer to this as “metal mouth” or “chemo mouth” and say it can make their favourite foods taste horrible. Here are some of their suggestions of ways to help: Change the way you eat and cook your food by using bamboo or plastic cutlery and try cooking in glass pots. Tart flavours from lemons and other citrus fruits, vinegar and pickled foods can help overcome a metallic taste but they are no good if you have a sore mouth. A quick and easy way that can decrease metallic taste is by adding a little more salt or sugar to your cooking.
Remember, speak to your medical treatment team to discuss your diet, ensure that food is safe for you and let them know if you are losing weight. Check with your doctor to see if your taste changes could be related to your medications. In some cases, your doctor may adjust your medications to reduce or eliminate side effects.