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How Do I Choose the Best Diet for Neutropenia?

Unpackaged deli meats should be avoided by those with neutropenia.
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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2014
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Neutropenia is a condition in which an illness or other medical issue dramatically reduces the number of infection-fighting white blood cells known as neutrophils within your body, making you especially susceptible to infections. In order to reduce your risk of contracting a serious infection, it is important that you follow a proper diet for neutropenia. When devising a diet for neutropenia, you should select foods that are not likely to contain bacteria or fungi, or foods that may have come into contact with these infectious agents. It may be safest to avoid eating in restaurants, and you should also remember that handling raw foods can put you at risk for infections.

Like all white blood cells, neutrophils are produced by the bone marrow. Neutropenia generally occurs when the bone marrow’s ability to produce neutrophils is compromised by a medical condition, such as cancer, certain viral infections, or bone marrow disorders, or as a side effect of a medical treatment, such as chemotherapy. If you develop neutropenia, your body’s ability to fight bacterial and fungal infections is reduced, putting you at risk for serious illnesses. Planning your diet carefully can help lower your risk of getting an infection during a bout of neutropenia.

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Many foods naturally contain small amounts of bacteria, fungi, or both. Normally, your neutrophils protect you from contracting an infection from these substances, but when your neutrophil count is low, your susceptibility to infection increases. Thus, the main objective of a diet for neutropenia should be to limit your exposure to foods that are likely to contain bacteria and fungi.

When it comes to dairy products, you should avoid any foods that are unpasteurized. Raw or undercooked meat and fish should also be avoided, and all deli meats should be prepackaged. Most physicians also advise avoiding uncooked vegetables and fruits unless the item in question has a very thick, removable skin. It may also be safest to choose prepackaged breads, pastas, rice, cereal, desserts, and condiments rather than buying these from bulk bins or from bakeries.

As you devise your diet for neutropenia, you should keep in mind that even “safe” foods can be contaminated by exposure to bacteria and fungi. Consequently, you may want to avoid eating in restaurants while your neutrophil count is low, as foods prepared in commercial kitchens can easily come into contact with infectious substances. It is also important to understand that you can contract an infection by touching raw or unwashed foods. Thus, it may be best to allow a healthy family member or friend to prepare your food until your white blood cell levels return to normal.

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