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Healthy Eating Strategies for Cancer Survivors Experiencing Taste Changes

Posted by Manuela Boyle on 16 June 2022
Healthy Eating Strategies for Cancer Survivors Experiencing Taste Changes

June is National Cancer Survivor Month. It is dedicated to anyone who has personal experience with a cancer diagnosis. 

Survivors experience numerous side effects caused by cancer and its treatment. Changes in taste is one side effect that significantly impacts eating and nutritional status,  and it can linger for months and even years beyond treatment.

If you are a cancer survivor and taste changes have caused you to significantly reduce your eating habits or you’ve lost 5% of your normal weight, talk with your healthcare team. It is imperative that strategies are put in place to control any unintentional weight loss during cancer treatment.

Chemotherapy medications target rapidly growing cancer cells, but many other healthy, rapidly growing cells in the body can be affected as well. The cells on your tongue, for example, are highly sensitive to chemotherapy. Aside from creating tastelessness, this can lead to mouth sores, pain and irritation. There are several strategies for relieving the symptoms and to avoid any nutritional harm.

Oral Care

Start by maintaining  good oral care -  don’t stop caring for and brushing your teeth, gums and tongue even when experiencing discomfort. Talk with your healthcare team or see a dentist for the best advice on how to care for your mouth during this time.

Healthy Eating Strategies

When preparing meals, it is important to make sure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Depending on the symptoms and taste changes that you are experiencing, here are some tips to help:

  • Continue to eat adequate protein. Substitute white meat, seafood, shellfish, beans, quinoa, nuts and seeds for red meat, if the latter has an offending taste. 
  • Marinate meats to help reduce offending flavour. Make your meats flavourful by using seasonings with a little salt and some healthy oils to boost the power of the marinade. Experiment with different marinades and find something that works best for your taste buds.
  • Avoid using metal utensils and eating canned foods if you are experiencing metallic taste.
  • Use sweet, sour or tart additions to recipes. 
  • Use herbs, spices and naturally sweet or tart foods to add pep to the recipe. 
  • Adding fats may help bring flavours into contact with taste buds. Experiment with different oils (bland or bold flavoured) and see how your taste buds react.
  • If everything tastes bland, bold flavours may help. Experiment with different marinades, sauces, and spices.
  • If everything tastes sweet, go with savoury recipes. You can also drizzle a little lemon juice or vinegar* on dishes.
  • Boost calories in small portions and eat small, frequent meals if you are not eating your normal amount. Add calories and nutrients by using avocado, healthy oils, nuts and seed butters. 
  • Try consuming foods at different temperatures. If hot or cold foods bother you, try consuming food at room temperature.

*If dealing with a sore mouth, limit the use of acidic foods.

For more suggestions on managing common eating difficulties during cancer, please ask us!

Author:Manuela Boyle
Tags:NewsCancerCancer survivorsNutritionFood as Medicine

Associations

  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia