Coping with Taste Changes when Aging

bowls and spoons filled with spices and herbs to help flavour food

There are many things that can change the way you taste food. Things like aging, smoking and certain prescription drugs may have an effect. Some oral infections such as gingivitis can also cause a temporary reduction in our taste. Read on to learn more about aging, taste buds and how to keep the flavour in foods.

Taste and aging

Some older adults find that they may not taste foods as well as they used to. This may lead to using more salt to increase the tastiness of foods. However, eating too much salt (sodium) can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.

We all need some sodium, but most of us eat more than double the amount of sodium we need. Adults need only 1500 mg of sodium per day.

Learn more about how to reduce your sodium intake here.

Spice up the taste in food

Instead of salt, try flavouring your foods with herbs, spices, salsas, chutneys and nutritious sauces.

Here are some common herbs and spices and foods they complement:

  • Basil: Flavouring for sauces, pesto sauce, dressings, infusing oils, vinegars, chicken, fish and pasta dishes.
  • Cinnamon: Use in baking, seasoning hot cereals, yogurts and puddings.
  • Cumin: Adds flavour to soups, stews and sauces.
  • Curry: Good with meat, poultry, beans and legumes, and stews.
  • Dill: Wonderful with fish, potatoes and eggs.
  • Oregano: Use in a variety of sauces, soups and salads, and tasty with poultry, beef, veal, lamb and vegetables.
  • Paprika: Good with seafood, vegetables, potato salad and eggs.
  • Rosemary: Delicious with chicken, lamb and pork.
  • Savory: Use in salads, stuffing and sauces.
  • Tarragon: Use with chicken, fish, veal and egg dishes.
  • Thyme: Tasty with chicken, veal, salads and vegetables.

To give foods a boost:

Vary the texture and temperature of foods at one meal. For example, try yogurt with crunchy whole grain cereal. Enjoy a cool fruit salad following a hot and spicy enchilada or taco.
Use colour to add appeal. Add red and yellow pepper strips to a mixed green salad; sprinkle red paprika on white potatoes; create a multi-coloured fruit salad with red and green grapes, honeydew melon and cantaloupe chunks, adding strawberries and blueberries.
Increase the flavour. Use seasonings, spices and herbs instead of salt and fat for flavour. An added bonus for choosing herbs and spices is that they contain health-protective phytochemicals.

Let your taste buds enjoy the flavour of food with less sodium! 

At the grocery store:

  • Read the Nutrition Facts Table  on food packages. Look for foods that contain less than 360 mg of sodium per serving, or look for products with a sodium content of less than 15% DV (Daily Value).
  • Look for words such as “sodium-free”, “low sodium”, “reduced sodium”, or “no added salt” on the package.
  • Compare food labels. Buy the products with the lowest amounts of sodium.​

At home:

  • Prepare your own meals using little or no salt. Make your own soups, sauces and salad dressings when possible.
  • Enjoy more vegetables and fruit. When using canned vegetables, look for brands with “no added sodium” or “no added salt.” Rinse canned vegetables and canned beans, peas and lentils to wash away some of the sodium.
  • Cook pasta, rice or hot cereal without adding salt.
  • Use less salt than what the recipe calls for, except when baking. Taste your food before adding salt.

When eating at a restaurant:

  • Ask for gravy, sauces and salad dressings “on the side”, and use only small amounts.
  • Flavour your food with lemon or pepper instead of adding salt, sauces or gravy.
  • Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG), a seasoning that is high in sodium.
  • Check the nutrition information of menu items before you order and choose foods with less sodium. This information may be on the menu, in a poster or pamphlet at the restaurant, or on the restaurant’s website.

Other things to try:

  • Drink water with meals to prevent dry mouth. Having a dry mouth can affect how food tastes.
  • Eat smaller meals and snacks more frequently. Usually, the first few bites of food have the most taste, so by eating more frequently you can maximize taste and make sure you are getting enough nutrients during the day.

If you are having trouble maintaining your weight or have a lower appetite, see your health care provider.


Recipes to try:

Lemon Almond Sauteed Greens
Zesty Bean Dip and Chips
Broccoli, Kale and Lentil Soup
Curry Chickpea Pasta Salad
Baked Spinach and Chicken Omelet

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can help you identify sources of sodium in your diet and give you tips to help reduce how much sodium you eat. A dietitian will help you compare food labels and show you what to look for at the grocery store. They can give you tips on how to make nutritious food more appealing to your taste buds. If you are having trouble maintaining your weight, a dietitian can give you tips on what to eat to boost nutrition. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

Some older adults find that they may not taste foods as well as they used to. With a little planning, you can enjoy many different flavours without adding salt to foods. Try different herbs and spices, use different textures and temperatures at a meal, and use colours to make food more appealing. You will enjoy foods more while avoiding the health consequences of having too much sodium in your diet!

You may also be interested in:

The DASH Diet for Lowering Blood Pressure
Cut out the Salt
Top 5 Reasons to See a Dietitian
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – September 20, 2023

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