This is the first in a series of questions I plan to answer, all surrounding how better to enjoy food despite cancer and the cancer treatment process. I welcome feedback or suggestions, so please leave a comment if you have anything to share.
* * * * *
The taste of foods often changes for people undergoing chemotherapy. This doesn’t happen to everyone receiving chemotherapy as part of cancer treatment, but it certainly happens to a lot. I’ve seen it happen as early as the first dose of chemotherapy, and it’s become my practice to warn people about this side effect. Foods that you used to love may now taste awful, and slightly sweetened foods may now taste sickeningly sweet. Food may taste metallic or bland and like cardboard. Not only can this side effect can lead to decreased appetite, weight loss, and malnutrition, but alterations in taste can dramatically decrease our ability to simply enjoy eating food, something that is critical to our quality of life as humans.
We aren’t sure why this side effect happens, but there is medical literature to suggest that changes in both the sense of smell and the sense of taste occur with various chemotherapy drugs. The sense of smell is heavily tied into our sense of taste, so an alteration in either can really mess things up. If you’ve ever had a bad cold and couldn’t taste your food properly, you have some idea of what this is like.
The unfortunate thing is that there is nothing that can prevent this taste alteration or solve the problem once it’s started. But, there are strategies that can be tried to get around it. Most importantly is to experiment with different foods. It may be that foods that you used to enjoy are now unpalatable. If that’s the case, branch out of your comfort zone and try foods with a different flavor profile. Experimentation is critical to finding foods that work and that you can still enjoy.
Many find that very spicy foods or dishes with a lot of heat in them are best during this time. Try foods from another culture – Asian foods or Indian foods, for example. Add extra spices to boost flavor. Marinate chicken, pork, or beef to increase the flavor in the protein. If food has a metallic taste, use plastic or bamboo utensils.
The most important rule is to just keep trying. You’ll find something that will work.
Here are a few suggested recipes to try: