Loss of smell and taste has been described as the fourth most commonly reported Covid-19 symptom in the UK. It is estimated that approximately 15% of patients with early-stage and mild Covid-19 infections develop changes in the ability to taste and smell. The scientific terms for loss of smell and taste are anosmia and ageusia, respectively. It is unclear why some patients develop these symptoms while others don’t. Several reasons for the symptoms have been explored, including nasal congestion, temporary nerve damage, and changes in the ACE2 receptors in the tongue and mouth.
Taste and smell changes seem to be most common in women and younger patients with Covid-19. The good news is that most patients regain their senses in 7 days, however, it can take 3 weeks or more before your taste and smell are ‘normal’ again. The problem with these symptoms is that you are left with no appetite for food. After all, who wants to eat tasteless, bland food? Nutrition and hydration are an essential part of Covid-19 recovery from home, so if you are experiencing anosmia or ageusia, you will need to work extra hard to get nourishment. Here are our top tips:
Apply your other senses
Your sense of smell and taste may be dulled, but the remaining three senses are likely to be as sharp as ever. This is where sight, touch, and hearing come to the rescue, and yes, all three can make your eating experience more enjoyable. With a little effort, you should be eating like a king in no time!
Plate up with pride
Did you know that digestion begins long before eating? Research has shown that at the sight or even thought of food, we start salivating - this is our body’s preparation for the anticipated meal. The more delicious the meal looks, the more we will feel like eating it, so plating skills are critical. You don’t need to be a MasterChef, but a little pride and creativity can go a long way in making meals more enjoyable. Small changes make a big difference:
- Add colour to your meals
- Stay away from bland, brown plates of food
- Use garnishes such as herbs or sauces
Play with textures
While we associate touch with skin, the sense of touch also creates a heightened experience in the mouth during a meal. Research has found that nerves and receptors in our mouths respond to the texture and temperature of food, and enhance our enjoyment of a meal. Drinking smoothies all day can get boring, but likewise, crunching on salads can become hard work.
So, make your meals interesting by adding some crunch and crispiness, balanced by soft purees and smooth sauces. And don’t be afraid to play with temperature - have an ice-cold smoothie for breakfast, followed by a warming soup for lunch. You can even combine temperatures: a cold, crisp salad with a hot, gooey lasagne to keep things interesting. Cold and frozen food is generally considered more palatable than warm foods for those experiencing taste changes, but experiment with what works best for you.
Set the mood
Making meals more enjoyable is all about the experience. Think back to some of your fondest food memories: Where were you? Who were you with? This is where we tap into the fifth sense: hearing. Chatting with loved ones (virtually if necessary), or listening to your favourite tunes can make the eating experience more pleasurable. Even if the food is not as tasty as you are used to, at least the company and music will be worth it!
Trick your tastebuds
If you have Covid-19, you may find that food tastes completely bland, while others find it tastes metallic or just plain strange. Luckily this can often be improved with some minor adjustments using the F.A.S.S. method developed by Rebecca Katz:
- F stands for FAT. Fat helps to improve the mouthfeel of food and can disguise a metallic taste. We suggest healthy fats like olive oil, nut butter and avocado.
- A stands for ACID. Acids like lemon juice and vinegar help to neutralise overly sweet or salty dishes and can add a zing to bland foods.
- S stands for SALT. While we don’t recommend piling the salt on your food, a small sprinkle of sea salt can intensify tastes, and may be useful if your taste changes aren’t too severe.
- S stands for SWEET. Some maple juice can help add flavour to meals and can mute bitter tastes.
Take home message
Changes in smell and taste are thankfully short-lived for most Covid-19 patients. While this may simply lead to a boring few weeks for some, it can negatively affect nutrition and recovery in others.
Simple changes, such as engaging your remaining senses, and modifying your meals can go a long way. It may even be necessary to set alarms to remind you to eat regularly, as discussed in our Covid-19 and nutrition blog here.