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Dec 8, 2004 10:16 AM

Immune system-challenged food suggestions

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I have a friend in the hospital who, due to some serious chemo & radiation, is verging on neutropenic. (Very low white blood cells. Basically, he pretty much lacks an immune system right now.)

The poor guy is a serious foodie with little appetite and a long list of things he can't eat. (Including *anything* uncooked including fruit and veggies.) Anyone have any experience with this that can provide food suggestions that he might be able to tolerate? Right now, he's kinda stuck with jello. Which he hates.

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  1. Just a guess, but maybe some cooked spinach? Especially if some garlic can be added?

    If that checks out, there are many ways to steam, boil, etc, and add all kinds of things (though you probably need to check the additions as well).

    One other suggestion, which is just a great recipe anyway (and easy) is spinach mushroom soup.

    I learned this a long time ago and I go by sight, taste and smell, but basically get some chicken broth going (4-6 cups) and add some Thyme, garlic and pepper as the main flavorings. The thyme and pepper become what really create a flavor balance.

    Next add some mushrooms (which may be not what he should have - I don't know), then add some fresh spinach. Let it simmer for a while, you'll probably want to add more spinach.

    Serve sort of like french onion soup - with a slice of toasted bread and mozzarella (which may also not be what he needs).

    So check out the shrooms and the cheese, but everything else might be a treat for his palate and his body. Best of luck.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      Definitely no on the cheese I think after a bit of looking. Google 'neutropenic' and the link below came up second. Probably good to check a few of those guidelines.


      1. re: Dennis S

        Here's another list of allowed and not allowed...


    2. I don't know if I'm allowed to recommend another we site here but I know that has info (or links to other sites) concerning special diets. Do a search there for "special diets" or for "immune" and I believe you will find it. Good luck to you and your friend.


      1. I have been through this and one of the problems is that nothing tastes right, either. It has been many years since my bone marrow transplants and some things still don't taste good. I would recommend that he try everything because he doesn't know which textures or flavors will still be good to him. I ate alot of italian ices because they had strong flavors (especially the citrus), I could keep them down, and they counted towards my fluid intake (a huge consideration in this situation).

        1 Reply
        1. re: leslie

          Yeah, I know he's having dredging up any real interest in food, and I know that strong savory flavors are making him nauseated right now. Did you have homemade ices? Everything has to be cooked; I'd worry that commercially prepared ices wouldn't be allowed?

        2. Some of the things I remember eating when neutropenic were:

          Meat that's sufficienly cooked (which will help if he is also anemic)
          Cooked vegetables

          I remember having pho during chemo, but don't know if I had it while neutropenic. It would probably be OK minus the raw ingredients (none of the side veggies and a cooked meat choice).

          Basically, food without a whole lot of spice; think American comfort food. Chemo changes your tastebuds, so, his favorite foods are probably not the best thing to offer, unless he wants them.

          Best of luck to your friend.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Lori D

            Thanks. I haven't been in to see him (my allergies are so iffy that I don't want to take a chance on being too germy for him) but he says that he's retaining a lot of fluid...which means he isn't really wanting to add salt to his diet. Did you find any seasonings that were mild enough to tolerate but would provide some flavor without sodium?

            1. re: --susan

              Maybe something along the lines of basil or tarragon used during cooking? Or black pepper, in moderation.

              Also, you may want to ask him about the level of spice he can tolerate. It may be more than you think. The nausea that I had during chemo was during the first few days (and it was pretty well controlled with antinausea drugs). Lowered white cell counts were more of a danger after a week or so, when the nausea wasn't so much of an issue. And I do remember craving (and eating, without problems) spicy Korean food, the kind that still brings tears to my eyes, during chemo, after the period in the chemo cycle where I was most concerned about nausea (which, for me, was generally when my white cell count was taking a hit).

              Every chemo has different effects, however, and individuals all react differently, as well. I just wanted to express that intolerance to any spice and neutropenia are not necessarily linked.

              Your best bet may be to ask your friend what he feels he can tolerate, or wants. If you do want to do more research on this, you probably need to post the type of chemo he's undergoing. It can make a huge difference.

              1. re: Lori D

                Melphalon, TBI, stem-cell transplant.

                Absolutely, the type of treatment makes a huge difference in toleration of food, but it's good to hear that you were able to satisfy your cravings and enjoy food during treatment.

                1. re: Lori D

                  If he can tolerate spice - a simple way to jazz up canned chicken soup is chopped chipotle (also from a can, although you will have leftovers of course). We do this (plus garlic) at home when we're sick - easy comfort food with the kick that makes it palatable to me.

                  You are a good friend and best wishes to your friend!

            2. My mother went through chemo this past summer/fall, and the things she enjoyed somewhat, in small portions, were:

              Baked bruschetta topped with a little tomato & olive
              Pepperoni or sausage pizza
              Linguini with tomato sauce & parmesan (not too much basil)
              Garlic bread
              Swiss chard steamed with butter and garlic
              Steamed asparagus with salt and olive oil
              Green beans with toasted almonds
              Oatmeal with cinnamon and honey or cooked blueberries
              French toast with cooked strawberries
              Scrambled eggs with red bell peppers
              Green tea with ginger
              Basmati or brown rice
              Baked sweet potato with cinnamon and butter
              Pan-fried russet potatoes with a little parsley
              Baked potato with butter or a little melted cheese
              Steak or hamburger (well-done)
              Baked salmon filet, no skin, with ginger
              Pan-fried scallops with balsamic vinegar (cook thoroughly)

              I found it really helpful for her if the food was colorful and presented in an attractive way. Also, I would tell her what I was thinking of making ahead of time, so she could think about it and maybe change her mind. Best wishes to you and your friend!

              1 Reply
              1. re: gina

                I should mention that my mother did not have super-intense chemo like your friend may be having, so of course subtract ingredients as necessary (like pepperoni, sausage, parmesan, almonds, scallops).