Not being able to taste food can take the enjoyment out of eating.
Loss of taste, formally known as ageusia, can be a natural occurrence with aging or a side effect of medical conditions and treatments, including nasal issues, chemotherapy, stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other neurological problems.
Recently, there has been an increase in people losing their taste as a side effect of COVID-19. It’s the fourth most commonly reported side effect, with approximately 20–30% of COVID-19 cases reporting some degree of loss of taste and smell.
Loss of taste can be temporary for some and permanent for others. Over time, this can have serious effects on your mental and physical well-being, potentially resulting in malnutrition, depression, and disinterest in eating.
This article provides 10 tips on what to eat when you can’t taste anything.
1. Focus on your other senses
When you are eating, try to focus on your other main senses if you’re having trouble tasting food.
For example, take time to look at the appearance of your food. Notice the colors, textures, and variety in front of you. You could choose to make your meals more visually appealing by adding various colors or spending time decorating your plate with garnishes.
As you’re chewing your food, slow down and notice the subtle differences in textures and sounds with each bite. You may wish to add crunchier foods to your meal to stimulate your senses of sound and touch.
If you’re still able to smell, try adding fragrant spices, herbs, and other ingredients. This may bring joy to your meal by reminding you of certain memories and creating an enjoyable atmosphere.
Finally, try to embrace other aspects of eating and food preparation, such as presenting your food in fun ways, creating an engaging social environment, and experimenting with different recipes.
Summary: Focus on your other senses to try to appreciate the textures, smells, looks, and sounds of food. Furthermore, try creating a fun and engaging eating atmosphere.
2. Experiment with different foods
Though you may have a diminished ability to taste food in general, there may be certain things you can taste more than others. Experimenting and identifying foods you can taste more or less can improve your eating experience.
Plus, certain foods, such as sour and tart foods, can enhance and stimulate the taste buds. In this case, adding more citrus flavors (think lemon, orange, lime) may help.
Also, certain spices, herbs, vinegar, and seasonings may help boost the taste of your meal.
Additionally, this may be a good opportunity to add nutritious foods that you normally steer away from to your diet. For example, if you’re not a fan of certain vegetables, this may be a good time to add them to your dishes.
Some people prefer to eat more bland food to lower their expectations of a flavorful meal. Therefore, experiment with different meals and see what works best for you.
Summary: Try experimenting with different herbs, spices, and seasonings that may enhance the taste of foods.
3. Eat foods you enjoy
People are at an increased risk of malnutrition when they don’t find joy in eating.
This makes it especially important to focus on any part of eating that you find interesting and fun, which will motivate you to nourish your body with food.
If you can taste certain foods more than others, focus on adding those to your diet more often — even if they may be less nutritious. For example, if adding a high salt condiment to your dish helps you eat it, then use it.
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This could even mean eating the same foods daily. While a diverse diet is normally recommended, if you’re more likely to eat a few select foods you enjoy, this is better than not eating at all.
That said, people with certain medical conditions or dietary restrictions like high blood pressure or celiac disease may need to work with a dietitian or other medical professional to ensure they’re selecting foods that are enjoyable and suitable for them.
Summary: Many people struggle to eat when they can’t enjoy their meal, increasing their risk of malnutrition over time. Focusing on enjoyable and interesting foods will help ensure you’re eating enough calories and nutrients.
4. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
For some, eating a large meal may feel like a burden since it’s less enjoyable without its flavor.
Therefore, eating snacks or smaller meals throughout the day can help you get in nutrition easily and quickly. In this case, you may wish to eat every 2–4 hours.
Try to include carbs, protein, and healthy fats into each small meal, or at least two in each snack.
Summary: Eating small, frequent meals and snacks can decrease the risk of boredom from not being able to taste.
5. Practice good oral hygiene
Ensuring good oral hygiene may help you taste food better.
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Keep your mouth clean by flossing and brushing your teeth regularly. Also, be sure to brush your tongue to remove any food debris. Some people also find it helpful to brush their teeth 10–20 minutes before eating.
Between meals, you can opt for an oral rinse to keep your mouth clean. Here’s a simple rinse you can make at home:
- Add 1 teaspoon (4 grams) of baking soda to 2 cups (500 mL) of water.
- Pour the solution into a sealable bottle.
- Before each use, shake the bottle and pour 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the solution into a cup.
- Swish the solution in your mouth for at least 30 seconds, then spit it out.
- Discard the remaining solution at the end of the day.
Summary: Keeping your mouth clean can help improve your ability to taste food. Ensure you’re brushing both your mouth and tongue regularly.
6–10. Other tips
Here are other tips that can help improve your eating experience:
- Monitor expiry dates. A lack of taste can hinder your ability to notice if foods taste “off” or have gone bad. If a food item has passed its expiration date or looks like it has gone bad, it’s safer to toss it.
- Drink fluids. A lack of fluids can lead to dry mouth, which can worsen your ability to taste. Drink water between meals and take small sips while eating.
- Take an oral supplement. Try opting for an oral nutritional supplement like Boost or Ensure, a smoothie, or a protein or meal replacement shake when you don’t want to eat.
- Try eating in a distracting environment. Contrary to most intuitive eating practices, you may wish to use distractions like a television or lively social environment to take your attention away from your taste changes.
- Seek professional help. Speak with a healthcare professional to help cope with your sudden change in taste. They can help provide personal solutions and guide you through this difficult time.
Losing your ability to taste can be upsetting and stressful. Allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings and grieve this loss, whether it be temporary or permanent, and be kind to yourself on days when you feel particularly frustrated.
Summary: Experimenting with different strategies will help improve your eating experience. If you’re still struggling, you may want to consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.
Sudden or gradual changes in taste can make eating less enjoyable.
There are many causes of taste changes, and finding strategies to improve your taste and eating experiences may bring some enjoyment back to eating.
That said, adjusting to taste changes takes time and can be both physically and mentally challenging. If you feel that you’re having trouble coping, speak with a healthcare professional who can support you through this difficult time.