Unpleasant Tastes in the Mouth FAQs
If you’re having treatment for cancer, you might experience changes in your appetite and relationship to food. You might feel less inclined to reach for the foods you once enjoyed, feel nauseous thinking about certain foods, or it’s possible you might even go off food entirely. These changes can be unsettling, but it’s important to remember that very often they are only temporary, and there are a number of steps you can take to keep yourself on track during this time. Managing tastes, and maintaining a healthy diet and weight can be really important in making a full recovery.
Whilst it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for a metallic taste in mouth, it’s thought that certain drugs can damage cells in the oral cavity. The use of particular drugs in chemotherapy can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in your mouth altering taste buds. There are also specific drugs that are known to cause a metal taste in your mouth whilst they’re being administered. You might want to ask your doctor who will be able to let you know if this is an expected side effect of a particular drug in your treatment plan.
If you’re having radiotherapy on your head or neck (such as to treat oral cancer), it’s also common to experience changes or loss in taste. Even though the radiation is specifically targeted, it’s difficult to completely avoid hitting the salivary glands. Our salivary glands play a crucial role in taste, dissolving food into a solution so it can enter our taste buds. When we lose our salivary glands, it’s always going to have an impact on the way we taste different foods.
However, there are a few steps you can take to try and stimulate your taste buds and edge your appetite back slowly. The best thing we can advise is to have a play around and see what works for you. Try listening to your body, and going for the foods that do taste and smell good. It can be frustrating when tastes change or disappear, but it’s good to remember that very often these changes are not permanent. The most important thing is that you keep your nutrition up so you can boost your immunity, and support your body on the road back to wellness.
If you’re currently experiencing a metallic taste, cancer patients have found some of the following tips helpful in stimulating their senses back into action:
Try to avoid eating 1 - 2 hours before chemotherapy and about 3 hours afterwards. Sometimes the nausea brought on by certain treatments can put you off the foods you ate most recently. By avoiding eating anything directly before or after treatment you can prevent bad associations with foods.
- Try adding different spices and flavours to your food. Some people find that this can kick-start their taste buds into action. (However, avoid sharp tastes if you’re suffering from mouth sores).
- Sucking on citrus fruits which leave a taste in your mouth can sometimes help disguise bad tastes.
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Committing to a big plate can feel daunting when your appetite is low.
- Invite a friend over to eat with you. A good conversation can distract you from any negative thoughts you might have around eating.
- A lot of people find that red meat takes on a metallic taste after cancer treatments. Try to switch up red meats for other protein-rich foods such as chicken, eggs or nuts, all of which are less likely to leave a metallic taste in mouth.
- Some people find opting for sweeter tastes can stimulate their taste buds. Try to go for something healthy and nutritious like a coconut flavoured ice cream.
- Steer clear of metal dishes and utensils where possible. Bamboo cutlery, chopsticks or porcelain soup spoons make great alternatives.
- Cold foods are sometimes easier to stomach than hot foods as they normally have less of an aroma.
- Try rinsing your mouth out with a mild solution of baking soda and salt water between meals - or even midway through eating. This can help with mouth sores and also neutralise bad tastes in your mouth.
- Keep a diary of taste changes. This can help your treatment team pinpoint what caused your taste and appetite changes, and also help direct you towards ways to better manage them.
Please note: if you’re experiencing changes to your taste or appetite, always let your doctor know so they can help guide you in making the best food choices.
Too sweet - foods might taste sweetener than they did previously. Try to limit breakfast foods and snacks that contain added sugar such as cereals, dried fruits and snack bars.
Too intense - some people find that they’re extra sensitive to tastes and smells during cancer treatment. Avoid using spices and strong flavours to lessen any overpowering tastes.
No taste - some people find they can’t taste anything at all. If foods taste unusually bland try playing around with different herbs, flavours, seasonings and condiments to try and stimulate your taste buds. We have some great cookbooks designed for people going through chemo side effects that contain ingredients known to stimulate the sense of taste during cancer treatment.
- Keep yourself hydrated with warm, soothing teas and clear soups
- Drink warm water with honey and lemon
- Sleep with a humidifier or vaporizer in your room - the cool mist can soothe your throat through the night
- Focus on eating cold, soft foods such as ice creams and smoothies
- Gargle with warm Sea Salt water every hour until the pain subsides
- Gagging when trying to eat certain foods
- Need to swallow more frequently to clear food from your mouth
- Choking sensation when trying to swallow
- Need to clear your throat after each mouthful
- Pain when swallowing
- Sit upright whilst eating and swallowing
- Focus on eating pureed, nutritious foods such as blended meats, vegetables and fruits
- Try eating thicker liquids as some people find these easier to swallow
- Certain medications can be crushed into pureed sauces to make swallowing easier (always check with your doctor if this is an option with your specific medication)
- Steer clear of eating dry foods like crackers and biscuits
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods