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COVID-19: Eating well with a reduced sense of smell

A selection of fresh herbs

Nov. 12, 2021—It's one of the surprising symptoms of COVID-19: Some people lose their sense of smell. This symptom, also called anosmia, may linger for weeks or months after a COVID-19 infection.

Losing your sense of smell can make it hard for you to taste and enjoy foods. This is because your senses of smell and taste are closely linked. This lack of taste may affect how you eat. You might find yourself eating too much or not enough. And you might not be getting the nutrients you need to be healthy.

Adapt your diet

If you have lost your sense of smell, what can you do to help ensure you are eating enough nutritious foods? For starters, you can talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your diet or any lingering COVID-19 symptoms. And you can try these tips to make your meals more enjoyable. They are inspired by information from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Appeal to your other senses. Preparing foods with more colors or textures may make them more appealing to you. For instance, choose from a rainbow of fruits and veggies—from bright yellow to bold red to deep green. Excite your palate with a variety of textures, too, such as crunchy, crisp and smooth.

Add flavor with herbs and spices. Depending on what's cooking, you might try savory and spicy curry; paprika; chili; garlic and oregano; or sweet cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. How about a squeeze of citrus or a few drops of vinegar or pepper sauce? Resist the temptation to add salt (which may boost blood pressure) and sugar (which may add excess calories).

Eat fewer combo dishes. One-pot wonders that have a lot of ingredients (think casseroles) can sometimes hide distinct tastes. As a result, flavor overall may get watered down.

Boost your sense of smell

What if your sense of smell does not come back? Should that happen, you might want to ask your doctor about something called smell retraining. This therapy involves trying different smells to stimulate the olfactory system (the parts of the body used in our sense of smell). Here's how smell training works, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery:

  1. Take sniffs from a variety of scents once or twice a day. For example, many experts recommend rose, lemon and eucalyptus. (You can buy essential oils that contain these fragrances).
  2. Hold each sniff for 10 to 20 seconds before going on to the next fragrance.
  3. Keep it up for several weeks.

Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms in our Coronavirus health topic center.

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.