Lifespan Cancer Institute

Taste and Smell Changes

Your sense of taste may change throughout treatment; some foods may not taste as you expect. Red meats may taste bitter, for example. If this is the case, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products or soy products may be more palatable alternative sources of protein. Nuts, peanut butter and cooked dried beans are also good sources of protein that may taste better to you.

Tips to manage taste and smell changes:

  • Try commercial marinades, fruit juices or salad dressings to marinate meat. Herbs and steak sauces may make meat, fish and poultry taste better.
  • Cook vegetables in extra virgin olive oil to make them taste better. Of the cooking oils, extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest choice. In addition to containing fats good for your body, being easier to digest, and making your food taste better, extra virgin olive oil helps increase your body's absorption of the carotenoids found in dark vegetables. Carotenoids are what give deep color to broccoli, carrots, spinach, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. A number of studies suggest that carotenoids are powerful cancer fighters.
  • If your mouth is not sore, try a bit of salsa, hot sauce, soy sauce, pepper sauce or Asian spices to perk up main dishes.
  • If sweet foods and beverages taste metallic or too bland, try salty or herb-seasoned foods, such as tomato juice, bouillon, soups, snack chips or deli salads.
  • If sour or bitter foods taste too strong, try foods that are bland or only mildly seasoned. You may need to trade off between bland and spicier foods if your sense of taste changes a lot.
  • To help clear your taste buds before eating, rinse your mouth with a solution of one cup warm water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tablespoon baking soda. Do not use mouth rinses that contain alcohol.