From a metallic or chalky taste to food tasting bland or different, it is common to experience changes to taste while undergoing cancer treatment

During chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you may notice that you no longer enjoy certain foods, find that all foods taste the same or notice a metallic or chalky taste in your mouth. This can mean you no longer enjoy the foods you used to like before you developed cancer, and struggle to find new things to eat.

Figures show that 50% of people on chemotherapy will be affected by taste changes and it can last up to one month after treatment stops. Other causes for taste changes are usually due to damage to the taste buds either from radiotherapy to the area or from the tumour itself.

Here are some taste changes you may notice: 

  • Foods may taste different than before, especially bitter, sweet, and/or salty foods
  • Some foods may taste bland
  • Every food may taste the same
  • You may experience a metallic or chalky or chemical taste in your mouth

Taste changes can impact your enjoyment of eating or drinking. In turn, you may not eat or drink enough for proper nutrition.

If you’re struggling with taste changes, here are some tips for making your food more enjoyable:

  • Eat foods that you enjoy and ignore those that don’t appeal to you, but try them again after a few weeks as your sense of taste may change again
  • Use seasonings, spices and herbs such as pepper, cumin or rosemary to flavour your cooking. However, if your mouth is sore, you may find that some spices and seasonings make it worse.
  • If you’re struggling to find foods with enough flavour and taste then try using recipes with new ingredients or use a cookbook specifically written for people with cancer.
  • Cold meats may taste better served with pickle or chutney
  • Sharp-tasting foods like fresh fruit, fruit juices and bitter boiled sweets can be refreshing and leave a pleasant taste in your mouth
  • If you no longer like tea or coffee, try lemon tea, or perhaps an ice-cold fizzy drink such as lemonade
  • Serve fish, chicken and egg dishes with sauces
  • Flavour foods with herbs, spices, sugar, lemon, or sauces
  • Avoid eating one to two hours before chemotherapy and up to three hours after chemotherapy. This helps prevent food aversions caused by nausea and vomiting.
  • Use plastic or bamboo cutlery and glass cookware if you notice a metallic taste in your mouth
  • Choose foods that smell and taste good, even if the food is unfamiliar
  • Eliminate cooking smells by using an exhaust fan, cooking on an outdoor grill, or buying precooked foods. Cold or room-temperature foods also smell less.
  • Eat cold or frozen foods, which may taste better than hot foods. However, avoid cold foods if you are receiving chemotherapy with oxaliplatin (Eloxatin). This drug makes it difficult to eat or drink anything cold.
  • Try sugar-free gum or hard boiled sweets with flavours such as mint, lemon, or orange. These flavours can help mask a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth.
  • If red meats don’t taste good, try protein sources, such as poultry, eggs, fish, peanut butter, beans, or dairy products
  • Rinse your mouth with a salt and baking soda solution before meals. Try a solution of ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water. It may help neutralise bad tastes in the mouth.
  • Consider zinc sulphate supplements, which may improve taste for some people. However, talk with your doctor before taking any dietary supplements, especially during active treatment.


Cancer community comments and tips:

Janet Warr: I’ve still got the metallic taste in my mouth and I finished my chemo 3 months ago. Always brought satsumas or clementines with me.

Susan: Everything smelled so good, but sure didn’t taste like it smelled. It was the pits.

Mary Lou Hardy: I had that metallic taste in my mouth after my first chemo treatment and my sister recommended that I put a drop of peppermint oil on my tongue. I tried that but didn’t like the taste when the oil hit my tongue. My daughter said I should try putting the oil in a glass of water so I have been doing that ever since. It has really helped.

Abby: I can taste things that have a tomato base to them (pizza, spaghetti, soup, things with ketchup on them).  Lemon drops really do help that taste, too.

Alaska Laura: During the week of chemo and the week after, I had the metallic taste and then for about 4-5 days before my next treatment, my taste would come back somewhat, not all the way but enough to where I could enjoy food like macaroni and cheese or seafood.

Jackle Roach: I cannot taste sweet or salty foods so chocolate is definitely off the menu

Jennie Rice Barta: I was also told to use Jolly Ranchers watermelon candies.

Laura: If you go to restaurants, ask them not to pour your water from the metal pitcher most places use….the water tastes nasty-just adds more metal taste you don’t need!!!