Eating during cancer treatment: Tips to make food tastier
You may find that cancer treatment has affected your sense of taste. Here are some tips to help food taste better.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
You may find that cancer or cancer treatment has affected your sense of taste. Food may seem to lack flavor or taste too sweet, salty or metallic.
Usually these changes are temporary and will improve with time. In the meantime, do what you can to maintain your calorie intake and meet your body's protein, vitamin and mineral needs.
If you normally follow a specific diet, such as one that's low in sodium or fat or designed for people with diabetes, it may be necessary to put those restrictions aside for a while. You'll want to allow for more variety so that you can increase your chances of getting adequate nutrition. Check with your doctor to make sure it's all right to relax your dietary restrictions.
Here are some suggestions for selecting and preparing foods. Experiment with these ideas until you find combinations that appeal to you.
Note: If your mouth or throat is sore, avoid spices, acidic foods, and hot foods or beverages, which may be irritating.
If food lacks flavor
Try different sauces, marinades, seasonings and other ingredients. These can help perk up the taste of food.
While cooking, add:
- Barbecue sauce
- Extracts or other flavorings
- Meat marinades
- Soy sauce
- Spices and herbs
- Teriyaki sauce
Other suggestions to add flavor include:
- Bacon bits
- Chopped green or red bell peppers
- Chopped onion or garlic
- Ham strips
- Cheese, especially sharp cheese, such as sharp cheddar
- Sugar or syrup on your food. On your cereal, try brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, dates or raisins instead of white sugar.
- Salty foods. In addition, salty foods such as cured meats, cheeses and snack chips may have more taste.
If food tastes too sweet
Tone down overly sweet foods:
- Add a little salt or lemon juice.
- Add plain yogurt, buttermilk, instant coffee powder or extra milk to milkshakes, instant beverage mixes or commercially prepared nutritional drinks.
Try foods that are less sweet:
- Drink beverages such as diluted fruit juice, milk, buttermilk, lemonade, ginger ale or sports drinks.
- Choose desserts that aren't as sweet, such as yogurt, custard, pumpkin pie, fruit, baked fruit, fruit with cottage cheese, fruit crumble, plain doughnuts, or graham crackers.
In place of sweet snacks, choose other foods, such as:
- Chips or pretzels with dip
- Cottage cheese
- Crackers and cheese
- Deviled eggs
- Peanut butter
If syrup, jam or sugar tastes too sweet, try butter or margarine on cooked cereal, toast and pancakes.
July 23, 2015
- Eating hints: Before, during and after cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/eating-hints. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.
- Nutrition in cancer care (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition/patient. Accessed Jan 5, 2015.
- Nutrition during cancer treatment. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pub_nutrition_cp. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.
- Suggestions for increasing calories and protein. Nutrition Care Manual. American Dietetic Association. http://nutritioncaremanual.org/index.cfm. Accessed Jan. 5, 2015.