Managing nutritional concerns: taste changes

Woman drinking water

Managing nutritional concerns: taste changes

Cancer treatment affects the cells in the body that replicate the fastest. These cells are located throughout the lining of the intestines. As a result, you may experience changes in your sense of taste and smell. Foods you usually prefer may become unappealing. You may also find that foods taste bland, bitter or metallic. Your food preferences may also change as you experience different side effects of your treatment.1

Tips for people experiencing taste alterations2,3

  • Use a mouthwash or mouth rinses that do not contain alcohol
  • If red meats taste strange, try substituting them for other proteins, such as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, dairy, beans or tofu
  • Eat foods that smell and look good to you
  • Avoid favourite foods on the day of or days around your treatment

Lack of taste, ‘cardboard’

  • If you do not have any mouth soreness and foods lack taste or taste like ‘cardboard’, season foods with tart flavours, such as lemon, lime, vinegar or pickled foods

Metallic taste

  • Avoid using metal utensils – use plastic utensils instead
  • If you do not have any mouth soreness and foods taste metallic, add extra flavour to foods with spices such as onion, garlic, chilli powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, mustard, tomato sauce or mint
  • Avoid hot foods to reduce the likelihood of strong odours
  • Use sugar-free lemon drops, chewing gum or mints

Salty, bitter or sour taste

  • Try adding sweetening agents such as sugar, honey or maple syrup to food to help enhance the taste

Sweet taste

  • Add six drops of lemon/lime juice or until sweet taste is muted

More information is available at Macmillan Cancer Support

It can help to talk to your doctor or nurse if you are having trouble swallowing, difficulty with coughing while eating or drinking, you experience a choking sensation or have pain or weight loss.


  1. Taste changes. Cancer.Net. Accessed June 2019.
  2. Elliot, L. Symptom Management of Cancer Therapies in Lesser M, Ledesma N, Bergerson S, Trujillo E, eds. Oncology Nutrition for Clinical Practice. Oncology Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: 2013. pg 120.
  3. American Institute for Cancer Research, Savor Health and LIVESTRONG. Heal Well: A Cancer Nutrition Guide. 2013. Accessed June 2019.

The health information contained herein is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a medical professional. All decisions regarding patient care should be made with a medical professional.