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Is cancer treatment changing your sense of taste?

A woman in her kitchen pours a smoothie from a blender.
Blog

/ by Siddhi Shroff, a registered dietitian at the UK Markey Cancer Center

Try going sweet

Reading this headline, you might be wondering, “A dietitian telling me to eat sweets?! Blasphemy!” But it’s true!

Change in taste is a common side effect during cancer treatment, but eating sweet or salty treats can help you.

Taste changes during treatment

Taste and smell changes are any alteration of these two senses that occur during cancer treatment. Because of the treatments you are receiving, your senses of taste and smell can change noticeably over time and even vary day to day. These changes can differ from person to person, too.

However, it is common for patients undergoing cancer treatment to find familiar foods to be too strong in a particular flavor (too sweet, too salty, too bland or too bitter, for example). But this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your meals.

Trying new flavors

When taste changes affect the flavors in food, it is important to pay attention to flavors that work for you. For example, someone who has a bitter or salty taste in their mouth may want to opt for sweeter flavors such as fruits, honey, sugar or other sweeteners approved by your doctor or dietitian. Don’t be afraid to try something you may not have considered eating before – you just might find a new favorite food.

If you’re experiencing taste changes and want a healthy and tasty sweet treat, try these recipes:

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

Makes four to six servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries (or strawberries, blackberries or raspberries)
  • 1/4 cup of honey (or sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

Directions:

  1. Blend blueberries, honey and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.
  2. Add yogurt to blueberry mixture in blender or food processer and mix until combined.
  3. Pour blueberry and yogurt mixture into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. If you do not have an ice cream maker, pour mixture into a freezer-proof container (shallow metal pan or glass container). For soft serve consistency, freeze 30 to 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. For solid ice cream consistency, freeze for one to two hours, stirring every 30 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately or store in a container in the freezer. If frozen yogurt becomes too solid in freezer, place in refrigerator for 30 minutes until desired consistency is met.

Recipe adapted from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Mango Carrot Ginger Smoothie

Makes two servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 mango, peeled, sliced into chunks.
  • 1/2 orange, peeled, quartered.
  • 1 large carrot, sliced into large chunks.
  • 1 1/2 cups soy milk, plain.
  • 1 (1-inch) piece, peeled fresh ginger.
  • 6 ice cubes.

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients in container of a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Pour into two glasses. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from American Institute for Cancer Research.

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