Lack of Appetite During Treatment

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Q: My father-in-law is undergoing chemotherapy treatment and has lost weight because he says everything tastes like metal. Do you have any suggestions to counteract the metallic taste of food?


Taste changes can be different for every patient because each patient is affected differently by their illness and treatments. Some strategies and tips that may help are:

Give foods more flavor:

  • Season foods with tart flavors such as lemon wedges, citrus fruits, lemonade, cranberry juice, vinegar, and pickled foods. (If you have a sore mouth or throat, these foods should be avoided.)
  • Try flavoring foods with onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, or mint.
  • Marinated and cooked meats are often better tasting. Try sweet juices, fruits, acidic dressings, or wine (e.g., try sweet and sour pork with pineapple, chicken with honey glaze, and London Broil in Italian dressing).

Hide strange or metallic tastes:

  • Rinse your mouth with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or water with baking soda before eating to help clear your taste buds.
  • Chew on lemon drops, mints, or gum to help get rid of bad or off-tastes that linger after eating.
  • Cold dishes that contain meat may taste more appealing than hot meals with this ingredient.

Some other tips to help food taste better:

  • Try serving foods cold or at room temperature, since hot foods produce stronger smells and flavors.
  • If foods taste metallic, use plastic utensils and dishes, when possible.
  • If nutrition supplement appeal is an issue, try pouring them out of the can and serve chilled or over ice.

Here are some ways to increase calories:

When appetite is low, it is important to make everything you eat count. It's ok to have small portions. Try to pick "nutrient-dense" foods and drinks (see tips below) and be encouraging. Eating more often will help make up for having less food at each meal or snack.


  • Eat small meals and snacks every couple of hours throughout the day.
  • Eat well during times when your appetite is better.
  • Keep high-calorie foods handy at home and in your car.
  • Add calories to vegetables by stir frying in canola or olive oil, or serving with a cheese sauce or sprinkle cheese on top.
  • Add calories to salads by adding salad dressings, nuts, seeds, avocados and/or olives.
  • Spread toast, crackers and fruit with peanut butter.
  • Keep fluids to a minimum at mealtimes but don't forget to drink between meals.
  • Try higher-calorie soups like split pea, tomato bisque, chowders, cream soups, and chili.
  • Sip on higher-calorie fluids such as juices (try cranberry, grape and nectars), milk, frappes, and commercial nutritional supplements.
  • Blend 1 tablespoon of canola oil in frappes or commercially prepared supplements (Boost/Ensure).

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