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Eating When You Have Changes in Your Sense of Taste or Smell

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Chemotherapy may cause changes in your taste and smell. Foods may taste bitter or rancid, and you may develop a dislike for certain foods. Many people report that their food tastes metallic. This happens because chemotherapy alters the receptor cells in your mouth that tell your brain what flavor you are tasting or what odor you are smelling. These symptoms can continue as long as you are under treatment. Your senses of taste and smell usually return to normal weeks to months after treatment has stopped. Learn more about the causes of changes in your sense of taste or smell and how to manage them.

How to eat if you have changes in your sense of taste and smell:

  • Try new foods. If you find yourself disliking your favorite foods, try ones that are different from what you normally eat. Be sure to try new foods when you're feeling good so you don't develop more food dislikes.
  • Eat lightly and several hours before you receive chemotherapy. This helps prevent food aversions caused by nausea or vomiting after chemotherapy.
  • Ask another person to cook for you, or rely on prepared foods from a store if you can't stand the smell of food. You can also order take-out.
  • Try eating more cold foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, or a sandwich because cold food usually doesn't have a strong smell.
  • Try eating with plastic utensils if your food tastes like metal.
  • Rinse your mouth with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or baking soda dissolved in water before you eat to help clear your taste buds. Some women say that sucking on ice chips in between bites of food helps numb their taste buds so they can eat.
  • Don't force yourself to eat foods that taste bad to you. Find substitutes that you can tolerate.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. It may be easier to eat more that way.
  • Don't wait until you feel hungry to eat. If you have no appetite, think of eating as a necessary part of your treatment. Try to eat at least a little something at regularly scheduled times during the day.

What to eat if you have changes in your sense of taste and smell:

  • Eat other sources of protein if red meat doesn't taste right. Try chicken, turkey, fish, or soy foods. You can also eat eggs to get protein. You may still like them even if meat doesn't taste good.
  • Eat fresh vegetables. They may be more appealing to you than canned or frozen ones. Canned soups and vegetables may have a metallic taste.
  • Try fruit smoothies and frozen desserts. They don't have a strong smell, and you may find them appealing.
  • Try peeled, sweet baby carrots instead of large unpeeled carrots, which often taste extremely bitter to women who are having chemotherapy.
  • Have portable snacks handy if you're having trouble eating enough because of loss of appetite. Keep high-protein snacks close by so you can eat when you feel like it. Try cheese and crackers, muffins, peanut butter, granola bars, sliced lean turkey or chicken breast, and fruit. And take snacks with you when you go out.

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