Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Appetite & taste

Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause changes in your appetite and sense of taste/smell, sometimes from day to day. For instance, the flavors of some foods and beverages may taste unusually strong or intense. Others may taste bitter, particularly beef, pork, coffee, desserts, sweets or tomatoes. You may also have a metallic or medicine-like taste in your mouth.

Fortunately, appetite and taste changes usually go away a few weeks after treatment ends. In the meantime, however, appetite and taste changes can interfere with your ability to maintain proper nutrition during cancer treatment. Good nutrition during cancer care can help support immune function, rebuild body tissue, decrease your risk of infection, improve your strength and energy and help you better tolerate treatment.

Tips for managing a decreased appetite

  • Eat small frequent meals six to eight times per day with small portions.
  • Emphasize healthy, high calorie foods at each meal.
  • Emphasize high protein foods at each meal.
  • Emphasize liquids of high nutrient value (e.g., Gainer’s Fuel, soy shakes, fresh juices, yogurt, etc.).
  • Ask your doctor about appetite stimulants.
  • Eat in a comfortable, relaxed environment.
  • Avoid the sight and smell of foods that cause unpleasantness.

Tips for managing taste changes/impairments

  • Eat small, frequent meals in a soothing, restful place.
  • Drink eight glasses of liquids daily to keep your body well hydrated.
  • To minimize taste fatigue, include foods from all the food groups in your diet each day.
  • Eating tart foods may help you overcome the metallic or bitter taste in your mouth.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum or eating candies and mints can help control the metallic or bitter taste in your mouth and help relieve mouth dryness.
  • Cold foods rather than hot foods may be more appealing.
  • To help improve the taste of the food, use spices/flavorings, such as ginger, salt, cinnamon, vinegars and soy sauce.
  • Frequently rinse your mouth with cool water, mint-flavored water or a mild solution of baking soda and water.

NOTE: This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to making decisions about your treatment.