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Diet tips for taste and smell changes

Taste and smell changes

Cancer, treatment, and teeth and mouth problems can cause changes to your taste buds and sense of smell. Foods may taste:

  • Metallic
  • Bitter
  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Bland or have no taste at all

Foods may also smell different to you, which can make you not want to eat them.

Your taste buds will likely get better when your treatment ends, but it may take a few weeks or months. The tips below can help you enjoy food more.

General tips to help with taste and smell changes

  • Keep your mouth clean. Brush, floss, and rinse often to help food taste better and keep a bad taste out of your mouth.
    • Brush your teeth and tongue with a soft toothbrush after you eat and before bed.
    • Rinse your mouth before and after you eat with a homemade mouth rinse. Store your mouth rinse at room temperature and make a fresh batch every day. Try this recipe:
        • 1 tsp (5 ml) salt
        • 1 tsp (5 ml) baking soda
        • 4 cups (1000 ml) water
  • Eat foods that need less chewing, like soft foods, smoothies, and soups.
  • Cold or room temperature foods may taste better. Foods are usually more flavourful when they are warm or hot.
    • Try tuna, egg, chicken, or pasta salad, ice cream, milkshakes or smoothies, pudding or custard, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, and popsicles.
  • Experiment with new foods, brands, and recipes.
    • Keep a list of foods and recipes that taste good to you.
    • Remember that taste buds change. Retry foods that taste bad after 2 weeks.
  • Add extra flavour to your food with spices, seasonings, and marinades.
  • Try tart foods before or with your meal to wake up your taste buds, like lemon, vinegar, and pickled foods (unless you have mouth sores).
  • Choose foods that look and smell good to you, even if that means you eat the same foods every day.
  • Suck on hard, sugar-free candies, mints, or chew gum after eating to get rid of a bad taste in your mouth, or sip on mint or ginger herbal tea.
  • Drink fluids with your meals and throughout the day. A dry mouth can make taste changes worse. Aim for 9 to 12 cups of fluid daily.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. The first few bites of food may taste normal. Eat small meals, often, to help you get enough nutrition.
  • If smell is the problem:
    • Eat foods that do not need to be cooked, like sandwiches.
    • Cover drinks and use a straw.
    • If you can, ask your friends and family to cook strong-smelling foods when you are not in the kitchen.
    • Avoid eating in rooms that are too warm or stuffy.
    • Use a fan when you cook or open a window.
    • Order prepared food or take-out instead of cooking.

Tips for if food tastes


  • Try meatless protein foods like legumes (dried beans, peas, and lentils), yogurt, eggs, tofu, nut butters, and hummus.
  • Marinate meat, poultry, and fish to change the flavour.
  • Use plastic or wooden forks, spoons, knives or chopsticks instead of metal utensils.
  • Serve meat, poultry, and fish with a flavourful dip, sauce, or a tart side, like cranberry sauce, red pepper jelly, mint jelly, tartar sauce, horseradish, pickles, or lemon wedge (unless you have mouth sores).
  • Eat fresh or frozen foods instead of canned.
  • Cook and store foods in glass instead of metal pots and pans.
  • Suck on lemon candies, mints, or chew gum after a meal (unless you have mouth sores).


  • Add sugar, honey, or maple syrup to foods or fluids.
  • Eat sweet condiments with meals like chutney, ketchup, mint jelly, applesauce, or barbecue sauce.
  • Eat bland foods, but be sure to always add protein. Try bread with peanut butter, oatmeal made with milk, mashed potatoes mixed with skim milk powder, plain pasta with cheese sauce, and pudding or custard.
  • Try ginger ale, mint tea, or sugar-free mint gum or candy after your meal (unless you have mouth sores).

Too sweet

  • Add milk or soy milk to nutrition supplement drinks, soups, and smoothies.
  • Add water or soda water to juices, lemonade, or iced tea.
  • Add decaffeinated coffee powder or mint extract to nutrition supplement drinks to change the flavour.
  • Add a pinch of salt to sweet foods like puddings, ice cream, smoothies, or milkshakes.
  • Try tart foods like plain yogurt. Eat it on its own or stir into soups and smoothies.


  • Buy low-salt or sodium-reduced products.
  • Add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to salty foods like soups, gravies, and casseroles. This makes foods taste less salty, but not sweet.
  • Do not add salt when cooking, and instead try herbs and seasonings like thyme, parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, and ginger (avoid ginger if you have mouth sores).


  • Add extra flavour to your food with spices, seasonings, and marinades.
  • Try tart foods before or with your meal to wake up your taste buds, like vinegar, lemon, and pickled foods (unless you have mouth sores).
  • Eat food with strong flavours like salsa, aged cheeses, pickles, olives, marinated meats, pizza, and lasagna.

How do I get enough nutrition when food tastes bad?

It can be hard to get enough calories and protein when food does not taste or smell good. Calories help you gain or maintain weight, and protein helps your body heal. Try the tips below to help you eat and drink enough.

It may help to think of food as medicine. Even if food does not taste good, it can give you energy and help you get better faster.

Tips to increase calories

  • Add a tablespoon of healthy oil to soups, smoothies, and bland foods, like mashed potatoes and rice. Olive, avocado, and canola oil add calories to foods without changing the taste.
  • Choose higher-fat dairy products like whole 3.25% milk and full-fat yogurt.
  • Add healthy high-fat foods to your meals and snacks, like avocados, olives, and nuts. Eat these foods by themselves, blend into smoothies, or add to salads.
  • Sip on nutritious fluids. Instead of water, try milk, yogurt drinks, smoothies with added protein, or nutrition supplement drinks.
  • Eat high-protein desserts like cheesecake, custard, pudding, dessert tofu, and ice cream. These are a good source of both calories and protein and may help you enjoy food more.

Tips to increase protein

  • Eat a protein food at every meal and snack. Protein foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, milk and milk products, soy milk, tofu, beans, and lentils.
  • Try meatless protein foods, if you do not like the taste of meat. Try tofu, eggs, beans, lentils, milk, yogurt, cheese, or nuts. Some people find they can eat chicken and fish even when other meats do not taste good.
  • Use protein powder or skim milk powder. Try one without flavour and stir it into soups, hot cereals, milk, and mashed vegetables. Or, try a vanilla or chocolate protein powder to add more flavour to your smoothies and shakes.

These diet tips are adapted from the following tools: