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Cancer Answers: Kelly Tomita

QUESTION: Has your cancer treatment changed your senses of taste and smell?

The holidays are a great time to relax and enjoy family, friends and loved ones. Food can be a central player in these social celebrations.

However, during cancer and its treatments your relationship with food may change. You may experience altered or lack of taste and smell which may affect your appetite and your willingness to eat. Many individuals struggle with metallic or bitter tastes while others say that food lacks flavor altogether.

Or it could be that your favorite foods simply do not taste as they did before treatment.

Nonetheless, adequate nutrition is paramount throughout treatment. Here are a few tips to help the holidays be as flavorful as possible.

• Try new foods. Things taste different than they did before. Use this opportunity to try foods you haven’t liked in the past. You never know what foods will become your new favorites.

• Use glass cups and plates and flatware made of plastic or bamboo to prevent additional metallic taste.

• Keep sugar-free lemon drops, orange-flavored Tic Tacs, gum or mints handy to help stimulate your salivary glands. It helps with dry mouth, too.

• Stock up on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables over of canned varieties. 

• Snack on frozen fruits like cantaloupe , grapes, oranges and watermelon and eat them as sweet treats.

• Season foods with tart flavors like lemon, lime, citrus fruits, vinegar and pickled foods (unless you are also struggling with sore mouth or throat) to help combat overly sweet foods.

• Try flavoring with new spices like onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, mustard or mint. Hint: Using fresh herbs and spices will yield higher flavor profile than dried.

• Add sweeteners and sugar like agave nectar or honey to enhance pleasant tastes and decrease salty, bitter or acid tastes.

• Blend fresh fruits into shakes, ice cream or yogurt.

• Try marinating meats to make them tender using fruit juice or win, or serve with a strong sauce.

• If meats have an unpleasant taste, opt for other protein foods like beans, seeds, nuts, tofu, peas and dairy foods.

• Keep your mouth clean. Brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth can help ease bad tastes. Rinse your mouth before and after meals with plain water or a baking soda and salt mouthwash to help foods taste better. (Mix 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 quarter water. Shake well before swishing and spitting).

Reducing unpleasant odors

• Serve foods cool or at room temperature; this may help to reduce food odors.

• Cover beverages and drink through a straw.

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• Choose ready-to-eat meals that require little to no cooking.

• Allow friends and family to cook for you, avoid being in the kitchen during meal prep.

• Let fresh air in. Open the windows while cooking and choose to eat outdoors when the weather permits.

• Avoid eating in rooms that are stuffy or too warm.

Take time to enjoy all that a meal brings, aside from its taste. Friends and family gathered together, chatting with loved ones, telling stories and reminiscing are all things that happen at the table.

Have a wonderful, healthy and flavorful holiday season!

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Please join us for our Comida para la Vida Food For Life Class, which is designed to help you better understand the basics of food, healthy eating and living well, on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 9 a.m. at the Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room.

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Have a question for Your Cancer Answers, a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to

As a registered dietitian with Marian Regional Medical Center, Kelly Tomita works with cancer patients at the Mission Hope Cancer Center to provide appropriate nutritional counseling, information and recommendations at no charge for cancer patients. For more information, call 219-4673.