“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.”
As simple as it may sound, some patients find this difficult to achieve with some of the side effects of chemo or radiation therapy. Leaving them or their loved ones scratching their heads trying to find foods that taste good during chemo or foods that taste good after radiation. Dealing with the many complications of the treatment itself, a healthy diet may become the first thing that gets overlooked. So here are 10 tips to help you and your loved ones find what to eat when chemo makes food taste bad.
Important Disclaimer: Please note that these are general recommendations for patients going through chemotherapy. As individual medical histories, treatments, or diagnoses differ, please refer to your oncologist or dietitian. Primarily consider their advice to avoid possible medical contraindications.
What To Eat When Chemo Makes Food Taste Bad
1. Eat Ice During your Infusion
This may sound a little strange at first, but this is recommended as one of the ways to make food taste better during chemo in a study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The article claims that those who kept ice chips in their mouths during the infusion had easier time-consuming food and liquids. This is due to the fact that chemotherapy drugs or radiation can cause oral mucositis that can last up to 2-3 weeks. Also known as “chemo mouth” it causes a metallic, medicinal taste in the mouth and leads to loss of appetite and taste. The cold helps prevent these drugs from reaching the mouth by narrowing the blood vessels.
2. Have Healthy Snacks
The mere idea of cooking can deter people from eating. It takes time and energy that may seem like it could be better spent elsewhere. This is completely normal and fortunately, some snacks just happen to make the best chemo food:
- Yogurt: Rich in protein and easy to digest.
- Sandwiches: Easy to prepare with plenty of options. (Avoid raw vegetables like lettuce.)
- Nuts: Rich in healthy fats and nutrients. Just pick up&go.
- Peanut butter: Rich in protein and fat, may add much-needed flavor.
- Watermelon: The cold and light taste added with rich fibers and carbohydrates makes it one of the ideal chemotherapy foods that taste good.
3. Blend your Food
Not only are smoothies delicious but with the right ingredients, they can make some of the best food for chemo patients. The sheer number of ingredients to choose from means you can always try other options for the best taste and nutritional value. Blending your
food can also be a great alternative for those with swallowing difficulties. An ideal smoothie should follow this basic guideline:
- A base: Water or a milk of your choosing.
- Fruit(s): Mango, blueberries, etc. for the flavor. If you have a sore throat, avoid fruits with seeds.
- Leafy Greens: Make sure to wash them thoroughly.
- Optional Boosters: You can try nuts, peanut butter, and such for nutrients and taste.
4. Eat Your Rainbow
One of the best pieces of advice on what to eat when on chemo is to eat your rainbow! It would seem that our subconsciousness is still drawn to bright colors as a toddler would. This is especially true with food as our minds associate colors with taste (redness with sweet, black with bitter or burnt, etc.). So color variety on your plate would increase your chances of finding flavors you enjoy while also making sure that you are getting the nutrients you need and keeping your digestive system healthy.
5. Have Several Small Meals Throughout the Day
There’s a reason why mountaineers focus on their steps rather than the peak. Because taking another step is much easier than worrying over the path ahead. The same goes for nutrient needs, you don’t need to have them all in one meal. Instead, meeting your calories in 6-8 small portions can serve you better and help with bloating as well as digestion problems.
6. Eat Fresh, Homemade Food
The primary goal of a chemotherapy patient is to keep the body strong with regular and a healthy diet. While meal prepping or leftovers might help with consistency, it could ruin your appetite altogether. Every time you reheat, the risk of infections increases, and food just doesn’t taste the same as it did before. Sometimes the freshness is what makes food taste good, not the food itself. Prefer fresh cooking to take-out food, pre-cooked or microwaveable meals.
7. Simple Tweaks for Taste
Protein-rich food like chicken, turkey, and beans can taste bland on their own. But with the right additions, you can change their taste entirely. The basics of how to make food taste better are as follows:
- If your food tastes metallic, you can try sweeteners like maple syrup or barbeque sauce.
- If it’s too sweet, you can add some lemon or lime.
- If it’s too salty, some lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or tomato sauce can help.
- If it’s too bitter, you may try sweetening it up with healthy fats like olive oil.
It is best to add these for taste only as abundance can cause digestion problems and nausea. Drink plenty of water to remove any aftertaste as well as flush out chemo.
8. Take a Short Walk Before Meals
Cancer treatment can sometimes interrupt communication between the stomach and the brain. Some patients describe not feeling hungry in the least despite not eating for a whole day. To increase your appetite and remind your body of its need for energy, you can go for a walk before eating.
9. Try Plastic Cutlery
Sometimes the problem is not finding foods that taste good to cancer patients but dealing with the chemo loss of taste. The effects of «chemo mouth» may increase with silverware. To prevent this, you can try plastic utensils. After all, you don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.
10. Oral Care
Use a soft toothbrush to minimize irritation and get rid of chemo mouth. Avoid heavy mint toothpaste to reduce chemo tongue. Rinse before and after meals to wash away the effects of chemo and the metallic taste in the mouth.
“When there’s a will, there’s a way.” No two bodies are the same. You may find tolerating some foods more difficult than others. Some changes may work wonders for you but not so much for someone else. Whether you are cooking for yourself or cooking for a chemo patient, we hope with these tips, some testing, and the advice of medical experts, you find your way of keeping your body and mind strong throughout your treatment!