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What to do when nothing tastes right
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com

You may find that an illness, medical treatment or medication has affected your sense of taste. Food may seem to lack flavor or taste too sweet or salty. Usually these changes are temporary and will improve with time. In the meantime, do what you can to keep your calorie intake up and meet your body's protein, vitamin and mineral needs.

If you normally follow a specific diet, such as one that's low in sodium or fat or designed for people with diabetes, it may be necessary to put those restrictions aside for a while to allow for more variety so that you can increase your chances of getting adequate nutrition. Check with your doctor to make sure it's all right to loosen your dietary restrictions.

Here are some suggestions for selecting and preparing foods. Experiment with these ideas until you find combinations that appeal to you.

Note: If your mouth or throat is sore, avoid spices, acidic foods, and hot foods or beverages, which may be irritating.

If food lacks flavor

Try different sauces, marinades, seasonings and other ingredients. These can help perk up the taste of food.

While cooking, add:

  • Barbecue sauce
  • Extracts or other flavorings
  • Ketchup
  • Meat marinades
  • Mustards
  • Salad dressings
  • Soy sauce
  • Spices and herbs
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Wine

Other suggestions to add flavor include:

  • Bacon bits
  • Chopped green pepper
  • Chopped onion
  • Ham strips
  • Nuts
  • Cheese, especially sharp cheese, such as sharp cheddar

Try:

  • Extra sugar or syrup on your food. On your cereal, try brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, cinnamon, dates or raisins instead of white sugar.
  • Extra salt. In addition, salty foods such as cured meats, cheeses and snack chips may have more taste.

If food tastes too sweet

Tone down overly sweet foods by:

  • Adding a little salt or lemon juice
  • Adding plain yogurt, buttermilk, fresh fruit, instant coffee powder or extra milk to your milkshakes, instant beverage mixes or commercially prepared nutritional drinks, such as Boost and Ensure

Try foods that are less sweet:

  • Drink beverages such as diluted fruit juice, milk, buttermilk, lemonade, ginger ale or sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade.
  • Choose less-sweet-tasting desserts such as yogurt, custard, pumpkin pie, fruit or fruit with cottage cheese, plain doughnuts, or graham crackers.

In place of sweet snacks, choose other foods:

  • Cheese
  • Chips or pretzels
  • Cottage cheese
  • Crackers
  • Deviled eggs
  • Fruit — fresh, canned or dried
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Sandwich spreads

If syrup, jam or sugar tastes too sweet, try butter or margarine on cooked cereal, toast and pancakes.

If food tastes too salty

A little sugar may tone down the saltiness of some foods. Try bland, mild-flavored foods. Cook foods without adding salt or seasonings containing salt. Avoid processed foods that contain a lot of sodium. Look for products labeled reduced sodium or low sodium.

If meat doesn't taste right

If the meat is fresh but it just doesn't taste right, serve other foods that contain protein, such as:

  • Beans or peas in soups, salads or side dishes
  • Cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Custard
  • Egg dishes
  • Eggnog
  • Fish — fresh, frozen, canned
  • Instant breakfast-type drinks or other nutritional beverages
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Malts
  • Milkshakes
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Poultry
  • Pudding
  • Yogurt

Other suggestions for meat:

  • Try meat prepared in combination with other foods, such as chili, lasagna, spaghetti sauce, casseroles, stews or hearty soups.
  • Try sauces, ketchup and other seasonings, which may improve the flavor.
  • Try marinating meat, chicken or fish in marinades, soy sauce, sweet fruit juices, wine or Italian-style dressings.
  • Try salty, spicy or smoked meats, such as ham, sausage, cold cuts or wieners.
  • Try high-protein foods that may taste better cold or at room temperature. Examples include cheese or cottage cheese plates; macaroni salads with shrimp, ham or cheese; tuna, egg, ham or chicken salad; cold meat or luncheon meat sandwiches; or cold salmon. Make sure that you don't let items stand at room temperature more than 60 minutes, as this could increase the risk of food poisoning.

General suggestions

  • Foods that look appealing often taste better.
  • Vary the color, temperature and texture of foods.
  • Garnish foods with a lemon wedge, orange slice, cherry tomato or sprig of parsley and set an attractive table.
  • Drink liquids often or use gum, mints or hard candies to remove a bad taste in your mouth.
  • Try using plastic utensils if you have a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth when eating.
  • Check with your dentist to see if you have any dental problems. Maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Check with your doctor to see if your taste changes could be related to your medications.

In some cases, your doctor may adjust your medications to reduce or eliminate side effects. Don't stop taking your medications unless your doctor tells you to. If these measures don't help, or if you're losing weight, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for further advice.

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  • Chemotherapy side effects: Coping with taste changes
  • Mouth sores: Cancer-related causes and how to cope
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  • June 16, 2006

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