Diet and altered taste

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Some people find that during chemotherapy their taste changes.  This is particularly prominent in patients receiving platinum based drugs (cisplatin, carboplatin) but can be present with any chemotherapy agents especially if a degree of nausea or poor appetite is present. Fortunately most changes are only temporary, usually improving 4-5 weeks after the last cycle.

You may find that foods that you previously enjoyed now taste unpleasant.  Foods such as red meat or coffee taste bitter, some complain of a metallic taste, others find everything tastes the same "like cardboard".   

If you experience these problems here are some tips to help make your food more palatable. 

      Eat the foods that you do like the taste of and avoid those that you don't. Re-try any 'problem' foods after a few weeks as your taste may have returned to normal. 

      If sweet foods taste too sweet - try a selection of savoury foods instead. Using stronger seasonings may help or try adding lemon juice.

      Sharp tasting foods e.g. grapefruit, lemon, and drinks such as bitter lemon may help stimulate your taste buds, increase the flow of saliva and get rid of any unpleasant taste in your mouth. 

      If meat tastes bitter or metallic try marinating/soaking it in fruit juice, wine, sauces e.g. sweet and sour, barbecue before cooking. 

      Avoid cooking in metallic containers and use plastic or wooden utensils. 

      Cold meats may taste better garnished with pickle or chutney. 

      If meat tastes unpleasant, don't worry, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, pulses e.g. lentils, beans can all provide the same nourishment as meat.

      Some people find cold or warm foods easier to manage and more palatable than hot. 

      If foods taste bland, try adding strong tasting herbs, spices e.g. oregano, rosemary or sauces e.g. soya, worcester, barbecue. 

      If tea and coffee taste strange, try milky drinks, fruit juices or fizzy drinks (avoid drinks containing artificial sweeteners as these sometimes leave a metallic taste in the mouth). 

      Try to drink plenty of fluids and keep your mouth and tongue clean. Brush your teeth regularly. 

      If your mouth is sore, ask your doctor to advise on an appropriate mouthwash/medication to help. 

Suggested Flavourings  

    Beef:                               Add horseradish, tomato, beer, mustard, ginger, black pepper, bay leaf 

      Chicken:                         Add natural or Greek yoghurt, garlic, orange/lemon juice, pesto, black bean sauce,     
                                       thyme, tarragon, coconut, paprika 

      Fish:                               Add black pepper, lemon juice, parsley, dill, coriander, paprika, almonds, coconut 

      Pork:                              Add cider, ginger, garlic, rosemary, apple, sage, thyme, pineapple 

      Lamb:                             Add mint, rosemary, basil, redcurrant, apricot 

      Cheese:                           Add onion, pickle, piccalilli, chutney 

      Potato:                            Add mint, parsley, onion, cheese 

      Rice:                               Add turmeric, onion, pesto, stock, saffron, caraway seeds 

      Peas:                               Add mint, parsley 

      Carrots:                          Add parsley, orange, coriander, tarragon, cloves, caraway seeds 

      Tomato:                         Add basil, oregano, marjoram 

      Cabbage:                        Add bacon, nutmeg, apple, thyme 

Foods in bold type - if you have a sore mouth it may be best to avoid these foods.  For information on sore mouths and soft foods, please see advice sheet on diet and sore mouth.

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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