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8 tricks to improve your sense of taste and smell during treatment

A person cuts a lemon in their kitchen.
Blog

/ by Sean O'Nan, MS, RD, LD

Written by Sean O'Nan, a registered dietitian at UK Markey Cancer Center.

All cancer treatments come with the potential for side effects, and everyone will experience them differently. Some common side effects you may experience include feelings of nausea, irregularities in bowel movements, and even changes to sense of taste and smell. These side effects might affect not only your nutritional status but also your quality of life.

If you're going through treatment, you may be less sensitive to flavors of foods but experience more metallic, bitter, salty and sweet flavors. These changes can decrease your interest in eating meals and can lead to unintended weight loss, increased fatigue, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Here are a few tips to help you manage taste and smell changes so that you can maintain a healthy diet:

  • If smells are overwhelming:
    • Avoid areas where food is being cooked or heated. If you are preparing a meal, try doing all your preparation first before starting to cook as this will cause the foods to become more aromatic.
    • Use a lid when able to help contain odors.
    • Consume more cold foods, such as sandwiches, fruits, yogurt, etc.
  • If foods are “bland” or have little taste:
    • Use flavorful marinades (like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and chili powder) and herbs/spices to flavor your foods. It's important to keep in mind that these may increase discomfort if you have mouth sores, in which case this is not recommended.
  • If foods taste metallic:
    • Use plastic silverware and plates.
    • Avoid canned fruits and vegetables.
  • If foods are too sweet:
    • Try adding bitter/tart flavors as well as salt to help combat the sweet flavor.
  • If foods taste too salty:
    • Add sugar or sweeteners to foods/drinks to change up the flavor profile.

If you are struggling to manage changes to taste or smell, it may be helpful to try new foods you may not have tried before. It's also important to remember that these changes may not be the same from week to week, so continue adding variety to your diet to see what works best for you.

For additional information regarding diet and nutrition for cancer patients at Markey Cancer Center, please call 859-323-2798 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

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