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Neutropenic Diet

Many people are unaware as to what a neutropenic diet is. A neutropenic diet is a special diet for people who have a weak immune system. The main aim of this diet is to protect their bodies from harmful bacteria and other organisms which are found in certain foods and beverages. When the body’s immune system is unable to perform efficiently, it fails to protect the body from such harmful agents. These kinds of bacteria are especially found in foods like fish, chicken, eggs and beef and hence these foods need to be cooked properly to ensure that all these bacteria have been destroyed.
The next important question is who needs to follow this kind of a diet? A neutropenic diet is recommended by doctors for patients who have undergone chemotherapy or other treatments for cancer. This kind of a diet is usually to be followed both before and after such treatments. An absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is a blood test which is done to determine the ability of the body to fight infections. This test is carried out routinely in cancer patients. If the ANC is below 500 cells/mm3, doctors recommend that such patients should adhere to a neutropenic diet. The patient has to continue following this diet until the doctor asks him to resume his regular diet. Patients who have undergone autologous stem cell transplants also follow neutropenic diets before and after the transplant procedure. On the other hand, patients who have undergone allogeneic stem cell transplants follow this diet during chemotherapy treatment before the transplant and continue with this diet till they are taking immunosuppressive medications. The doctor will tell these patients for how long they are supposed to follow such a diet. Neutropenic diet guidelines are also meant to be followed by people undergoing HIV/AIDS treatment or those who have had organ transplants. Patients who are not sure about following such a diet should always consult with their doctors or dieticians before continuing with the diet. A neutropenic diet enlists foods that are important and foods that should be avoided by the patients. Some of the general neutropenic diet precautions include;
  • Avoiding fresh vegetables, fruits and garnishes.
  • Avoiding raw or undercooked eggs, fish and meats. The egg yolks should not be runny and the meats must be well cooked.
  • Avoiding deli foods and salads. Fresh sliced meats should be substituted by vacuum packed meats.
  • Avoiding raw nuts and eating baked or roasted ones instead.
  • Eating only pasteurized dairy products.
  • Avoiding yogurt and other products with active and live cultures.
  • Washing hands regularly while handling and cooking food. It is also important to wash all cooking surfaces and utensils to avoid infections.
A neutropenic diet for cancer also stresses on the importance of clean drinking water. Tap water at home is safe but if you are using bottled water it must be distilled, labeled reverse osmosis or filtered through a 1 micron filter. Well water should be boiled for at least a minute before you consume it. When a person is neutropenic he has to be very careful about what he eats to avoid food borne diseases and infections. A neutropenic diet with leukemia patients basically means a healthy diet which includes thoroughly cooked fruits and vegetables, pasteurized dairy products, well done lean meats and whole grains which are free of contaminants. It is very important to follow the proper guidelines of a neutropenic diet for leukemia patients as their immune system is very weak and cannot fight infections or diseases which can be contracted through foods and drinks. A neutropenic diet and yogurt never go hand in hand especially if the yogurt is unpasteurized. Unpasteurized milk and dairy products should be avoided completely while following such a diet. In a neutropenic diet pepper, salt and other herbs and spices are important as they help in fighting of infections while cooking food. Some of the recommended neutropenic diet foods include bread rolls, muffins and donuts without nuts, potato chips, French toast, popcorn, crackers, cooked pastas and rice, whole milk, buttermilk, homemade milkshakes, commercial frozen milkshakes, packaged cheese like mozzarella, parmesan and cheddar, canned juices and fruits and well cooked meats, fish, eggs and vegetables. Neutropenic diet recipes should always be prepared using herbs and other seasoning or low sodium seasoning. However, these seasonings and herbs should be added to the food while it is being cooked and not after cooking. While preparing recipes with nuts, it is always better to use roasted or baked nuts instead of raw nuts. Pickles made at home should be substituted for canned pickles that are available commercially. Doctors mainly stress on the need for a neutropenic diet for cancer patients to avoid further health complications for patients and also help them recover from treatments in a healthy way.
Submitted on January 16, 2014