Preparing the ingredients for chicken marinade.

Change in taste affecting your appetite?

There are many changes that come with the diagnosis of cancer and the subsequent cancer treatments – which include changes in the sense of taste.

Common problems for patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy include changes in the taste buds, making some foods taste bitter or metallic, too salty or sweet – or even tasting like “cardboard.”

While this can be extremely frustrating, adding a few simple ingredients to your dishes may just mean the difference between an inedible dish and an unforgettable dish.

Metallic Tastes

During radiation or chemotherapy treatment, some patients may find that their foods have a metallic flavor or taste bitter. This flavor change is one of the most common side effects of treatment, and it is often an issue when trying to eat red meats.

One way to lessen these taste alterations is to try adding something acidic to the particular food or dish. These acidic additions can be as simple as squeezing a lemon on the particular item, adding vinegar-based condiments to the meals, such as barbeque sauce, or even marinating your meats in an acidic dressing or wine.

If acidic flavors don’t work for you, adding a little bit of sweetener to foods can alleviate the bad taste. This doesn’t just apply to already sweet foods. Experiment with meats, vegetables and anything else that may have these unappetizing, bitter flavors. Try some sweeteners such as sugar, honey, agave nectar or maple syrup on a food item to enhance its flavor.

Everything Tastes Ultra-Sweet

Some patients may also find that particular foods taste super-sweet.  Lemon or lime juice also can be used in small increments to neutralize these overbearing sweet flavors in their foods. Try adding a few drops at a time to dishes and increase as needed until the super-sweet flavor has been muted.

A little bit of sea salt can also help those super-sensitive taste buds. Try adding a small pinch at a time to your foods, increasing as needed until some flavor has been restored in your food.

Food Now Tastes Bland and Boring

If treatments are causing all your foods to taste poor and bland, try a combination of the tips addressed earlier. If those don’t work, try increasing the spices or herbs in your dishes to help heighten your senses and to give your taste buds a little treat. New flavors such as onion, garlic, basil, rosemary or mint may be just what you need to enhance your dish.

These tips may not completely resolve these unfortunate side effects but may give you another chance at enjoying your meals. It’s important to play around with these tips to find what works best for you.


Chicken breasts with citrus and herb marinade.

Chicken breasts with citrus and herb marinade.

Citrus Marinade

(Yield: 1.5 cups)

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup lime juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning

Mix all ingredients together in large, wide and shallow non-metal casserole dish or mixing bowl. Add food to be grilled and turn to coat all sides. Cover and refrigerate for 1-6 hours. When ready to grill, remove meat and discard marinade.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 19 calories, 0 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 5 g carbohydrates,

0 g protein, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 mg sodium.

Recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research:


Post by Jenna Brammell

Dietetic Intern, University of Kentucky

fresh papaya

Cooling Off

Hot weather isn’t the only reason you may want to get some cold foods and drinks this summer. Consuming chilly foods and beverages may be beneficial for patients going through radiation and/or chemotherapy for many reasons.

Common side effects of these treatments are painful mouth sores, irritation and inflammation caused by a condition called mucositis. While there is no complete cure, some patients find that chilled foods and drinks are easier to tolerate than their hot counterparts.  Patients who also experience nausea or vomiting after treatments also may find that heated foods have stronger smells and flavors, making them harder to tolerate.

Finding chilled food options

There are numerous ways to find delicious cold foods, especially during the summer months. Local grocery stores, ice cream parlors and smoothie shops are great places to look for soothing solutions, but there also are a lot of options for those who like to cook at home.

The papaya pineapple smoothie recipe found below is great for those patients who like to make fruity smoothies in the comfort of their own kitchens.  Not only is this treat full of great flavor, some studies have shown that certain enzymes in papaya may help improve symptoms of a dry mouth, and this fruit also has an abundance of cancer-fighting antioxidants.

More than smoothies

If you are tired of the typical ice cream or smoothie, try something a little more savory, such as the “Cooling Cucumber Avocado Soup” (recipe below).  This soup is not only refreshing way to soothe a sore mouth, but the avocado also has numerous health benefits, including good fats, protein and vitamins. For those who do not like avocado, substituting plain Greek yogurt is one way to maintain the health benefits without sacrificing the flavor.

While cool foods and drinks typically are easier for patients with sore mouths to consume, it is important to remember that not all chilled dishes are created equally:  Some patients experiencing mouth sores may find that sour or tart dishes, such as citrusy smoothies, can irritate their mouths even more, while some patients find that these flavors make their foods more appealing and easier to eat.

Be cautious when trying new dishes to find flavors that work best for you.  Once that’s done, these foods can be prepared in advance and kept in the refrigerator and enjoyed for 3-5 days.



Fresh papaya can be soothing.

Papaya Pineapple Smoothie

  • ½ cup chopped papaya
  • 2 cups chopped fresh pineapple
  • 8 ice cubes
  • 1 cup rice milk or almond milk
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground flax seeds
  • ½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon maple syrup

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Serve immediately.

Variation: Add 1 tablespoon of unrefined virgin coconut oil for additional healthy fat and calories.

For extra protein, add a scoop of whey protein powder.

If using frozen fruit, leave out ice cubes as the smoothie will be thick enough without them.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Storage: Store in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for 2 days. Shake well before serving.

Per serving: Calories: 125; Total Fat: 4.7 g (2.8 g saturated, .7 g mono-unsaturated); carbohydrates: 21 g; Protein 2 g; Fiber 2 g: Sodium 20 mg.



Cucumber avocado soup with shrimp offers good fats and protein.

Cooling Cucumber Avocado Soup

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 lbs English cucumbers – peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon agave nectar
  • sea salt
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro

Pour 1 cup of the water into the blender, then add the cucumbers, avocados, lime juice, agave nectar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and the cayenne. Blend until extremely smooth, gradually adding more water until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and adjust the amount of salt, adding as much as ¾ teaspoon more. Chill for at least 2 hours, then stir in the mint and cilantro just before serving.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Per serving: Calories 95; Total Fat: 7.2 g (1 g saturated, 4.5 g mono-unsaturated); Carbohydrates 8 g; Protein 2 g;  Fiber 4 g; Sodium 105 mg


Recipes from The Cancer Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson


Post by Jenna Brammell

Dietetic Intern, University of Kentucky