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