Neutropenic Diet

Elise Deming, RDN
Buffet

Also known as the sterile diet, the neutropenic diet aims to reduce the amount of bacteria consumed and the risk of food-borne illness in those with a compromised immune system. This diet is practiced by many health facilities and originated to prevent infections after hematopoietic stem cell transplantations.

What Is It?

This diet is recommended for individuals with neutropenia, or decreased amount of infection-fighting white blood cells. Chemotherapy can induce neutropenia; therefore, medical professionals recommend the neutropenic diet for many cancer patients. Additionally, those undergoing organ transplants or receiving treatment for AIDS are occasionally put on a neutropenic plan. However, according to a 2011 journal review, the science behind the diet was never proven.

Foods to Eat

When following this diet, patients are counseled to consume only cooked, pasteurized foods such as:

  • Cooked vegetables, canned fruits, and fruit juices
  • Only meat cooked "well-done"
  • Completely cooked eggs
  • Pasteurized dairy products
  • Distilled or tap water

Foods to Avoid

Many foods to avoid are raw, uncooked foods that could carry bacteria such as:

  • Raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oats
  • Raw or under-cooked meats and eggs
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Dairy and yogurt that contains "live and active cultures"
  • Soft cheeses
  • Cold salads, such as pasta, egg, or macaroni salads
  • Deli meats
  • Undistilled water
  • Sushi
  • Buffet lines

View full list of foods to eat and avoid if you are following this plan.

The Evidence Behind the Diet

The science supporting the neutropenic plan is controversial. Today, many health professionals and scientists do not see the research or efficacy behind the diet. Some research studies even claim that following the diet decreases patients' quality of life.

Tips

Researchers who disagree with the neutropenic plan suggest a less extreme diet for immunocompromised patients. This more liberal diet focuses on increasing food safety handling, which improves quality of life and decreases exposure to bacteria.

  • Thorough washing raw fruits and vegetables before consuming (do not eat if bruised).
  • Consume only pasteurized dairy products.
  • Consume only "well-done" meats, eggs, and fish.
  • Avoid soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt.
  • Avoid deli meats.
  • Avoid soft/moldy cheeses.
  • Avoid raw honey.
  • Avoid handling raw yeast.
  • Avoid buffets.
  • Do not share drinks or food with anyone.

Is It Right for You?

For individuals with a comprised immune system, dietary modifications must be made to avoid food-borne illnesses and infections. The neutropenic plan was created to do just that. However, some professionals question the evidence to support this diet and thus have liberalized it. No matter what diet you choose to follow, speak to your doctor before making any dietary alterations.

Neutropenic Diet