I had the unfortunate experience of having COVID-19 at the start of 2021. Though not a good experience, I am thankful to have come out of it better than many. I will spare you the unpleasant details, but I do want to talk about one. I lost my sense of smell and still, several months later, have not fully gained it back. Besides not being able to smell my favorite shampoo, it also means my eating experience is different. Taste is often rated in consumer surveys as the main reason people make certain food choices. However, eating is multi-sensory with taste and smell working hand and hand. Think about when you have a cold, eating is often not as an enjoyable experience — not being able to smell is one of those reasons.

Loss of smell or a decreased ability to smell has numerous causes beyond COVID — including head trauma, neurological issues such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly, FoodandNutrition.org sites that multiple studies indicate 85% to 90% of patients with Alzheimer’s and 45% to 96% of those with Parkinson’s experience smell impairments. This is also associated with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The vast majority of cancer patients who receive chemotherapy deal with olfactory effects and half of the top 100 medications list this as a side effect. In other words, it is fairly common, but COVID brought to the forefront of many people’s minds, most certainly my own.

Our sense of smell is a built-in warning system. We often smell dangers such as gas leaks, fires, and fumes before we see them. In regard to food, smelling a food can give us a signal that it may be rotten and should not be eaten. On the other hand, not enjoying this sensory experience often reduces appetite and interest in eating. If you are one of the thousands of people dealing with lose of smell, try the following:

n Focus on taste: pay attention to what taste sensations you enjoy most and focus meals around them. If you like sweet, try incorporating grilled fruit or roasted carrots. Roasting and grilling enhance natural sweetness.

n Feel the textures: be deliberate about adding contrasting textures such as whole grain granola in your yogurt and nuts in your salads, maybe avocado on your toast. Try bouncy textures like soaked chia seeds and cooked wheat berries.

n Embrace new flavors: use spices and fresh herbs. Try growing mint or basil right on your kitchen windowsill.

Although the loss of smell is minor for many compared to the other great losses as a result of COVID-19 or the other diseases and issues described above, I hope these small tips will help recapture a love of food and eating — which can be a simple, but true joy in life — a way to nourish our bodies, and when enjoyed with others, our relationships.

Contact Amanda Root at arr27@cornell.edu.

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