Diet during cancer treatment: ‘metal mouth’ and managing your taste buds

August 18, 2014 | by

Cancer treatment and the cancer itself can cause changes in your sense of taste or smell. These side effects typically subside after treatment ends, but there are ways to help alleviate those bitter and metallic tastes in your mouth.

Here are tips from the National Cancer Institute to help keeps tastes and food interaction as pleasant as possible.

During cancer treatment changes in sense of taste or smell can make foods unappetizing, but there are ways to trick your taste buds.

During cancer treatment changes in sense of taste or smell can make foods unappetizing, but there are ways to trick your taste buds.

  • Eat with plastic forks and spoons if you have a metallic taste in your mouth. Chopsticks are a good alternative, too.
  • Cook foods in glass pots and pans instead of metal ones.
  • Use special mouthwashes, brush often and floss. Ask your dentist or doctor about mouthwashes that may help.
  • Choose foods that look and smell good. Avoid foods that do not appeal to you. Red meat may taste or smell strange, so try chicken or turkey instead.
  • Marinate foods. You can improve flavor of meats and poultry by soaking them in marinade. While marinating it, keep meat in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
  • Try tart foods and drinks. These include oranges and lemonade or adding lemon or lime juices to food or water. Tart lemon custard might taste good and help add extra calories. (Note: do not consume tart foods if you have a sore mouth or sore throat).
  • Make foods sweeter. If foods have a salty, bitter or acidic taste, adding sugar or sweetener can help.
  • Experiment with adding extra flavor or flavors you’ve never had before so you have no expectation of how it should taste. Try bacon bits, onions or herbs like basil, cumin, coriander and rosemary. Use barbecue sauce on meats and chicken.
  • Avoid foods and drinks with smells that bother you.

Help combat metallic and cardboard tastes by using marinades, spices, herbs and citrus juices like lemon and lime.

Help combat metallic and cardboard tastes by using marinades, spices, herbs and citrus juices like lemon and lime.

Here’s how to reduce smells:

  • Serve foods at room temperature.
  • Keep foods covered.
  • Use cups with lids.
  • Drink through a straw.
  • Use a kitchen fan when cooking.
  • Cook outdoors.
  • When cooking, lift lids away from you.

Former City of Hope patient, Alexandria Cervantes, shared what she learned while undergoing cancer treatment.

Do not eat your favorite foods when you are on chemo or have just come off of chemo – you may ruin them forever,” says Cervantes. "When my mouth tasted like nothing but metal and blandness, I ate hot Cheetos and Lucas. It's the only thing that tasted good. You can buy Lucas at Mexican markets or at the Sweet Factory at the mall."

Resource:  "The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen" is a book by chef Rebecca Katz that helps cancer patients learn how to eat and enjoy food during treatment. Her recipes help patients retain their interest in foods.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting us online or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.