Food and CancerDownload this book (pdf, 403.71 kb)
Food and Cancer: appetite loss and sensory changes
Loss of appetite is a common problem that is often caused by the effects of cancer on the body. Side effects from cancer treatment or being depressed or upset can also cause loss of appetite. You may just not feel like eating.
There are many ways to make meal times more appealing. These suggestions may help if you have lost your appetite.
- Try not to miss meals.
- Eat small meals often. If you can, try to have three small meals and three snacks each day. A few mouthfuls of food are better than none.
- Make sure what you eat and drink is nourishing. Nourishing drinks (such as milk-based drinks) make good snacks.
- Keep snacks handy to eat whenever you can. Nuts and dried fruit are good choices.
- Some light physical activity before you eat may help increase your appetite.
- Keep your mouth fresh with mints or chewing gum, or brush your teeth after meals. Also try to stop smoking as it reduces appetite and changes the taste of food.
- Try soft or moist meals, they may be easier to manage, e.g casseroles instead of grilled steak.
- Ask family and friends to prepare meals, if you don't feel like cooking.
- Use frozen pre-prepared meals, home delivery meal services or restaurant takeaways when you don't feel like cooking.
Changes in taste and smell
Sometimes your sense of taste or smell may change. This can happen because of chemotherapy or radiation therapy or the cancer itself.
- Add flavour to food with flavourings like salt, garlic, cheese, bacon, herbs, soup mixes, chutneys, pickles, spices, sugar or chocolate.
- Use salt, lemon juice or coffee powder if food tastes too sweet.
- Add sugar or honey to food if it tastes metallic or very salty. Try sucking on lemon lollies or other sharp-flavoured boiled sweets.
- Eat with plastic utensils to help reduce bitter flavours. Try not to drink out of soft drink cans, pewter beer mugs or metallic containers if you have a metallic taste.
- Choose cold food or food without a strong smell. Sometimes the smell of food can put you off eating.
- Stay out of the kitchen, if possible, when food is being prepared.
- Don't force yourself to eat foods you don't enjoy.
- Use a drinking straw to bypass your tastebuds.
- Try different recipes.
- Marinate meat, fish, poultry or tofu to add extra flavour.
- Try pre-cooked foods. Ask family or friends to cook.
- Reheat prepared meals in the microwave, so the cooking odour doesn't put you off eating.
- Keep your teeth and mouth clean by flossing, brushing and rinsing often. When your mouth is clean and moist, flavours are more distinct.