As defined by Mayo Clinic, neutropenia is a condition characterized by a low amount of neutrophils, the white blood cells responsible for fighting off infection. Due to a low neutrophil count, a person’s immune system weakens, thus compromising his or her ability to fight off infections. Neutropenia typically occurs in those undergoing cancer treatments, stem cell or organ transplant recipients, or HIV or AIDS patients. Those with neutropenia must follow a neutropenic, or low-microbial, diet. This diet consists of avoiding foods that potentially carry high amounts of bacteria.
Raw Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables typically carry bacteria, even after a thorough washing. Those with neutropenia should avoid raw vegetables and herbs, salad bars, fresh salsas, and most fresh fruit. Thick-skinned fruit, such as bananas and oranges, are considered safe. Bacteria thrive in unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices so a neutropenic individual should avoid these beverages.
A neutropenic diet allows must grains and starches, however, someone with neutropenia should avoid breads and cereals that contain raw nuts or oats. Since raw nuts and oats lack exposure to any heating, bacteria thrive. Even a small amount of bacteria can cause an infection in someone with neutropenia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Neutropenic individuals should avoid uncooked pastas and should not bake breads with active yeast.
Rare-cooked Meat and Unpasteurized Dairy
Avoid raw or rare-cooked meat, fish, and poultry. All meats must be cooked to well done. A neutropenic diet prohibits sushi and sashimi and freshly sliced deli meat and lox/smoked salmon. Acceptable deli meats include those found in vacuum-sealed containers and packages. Undercooked eggs also present a hazard. Eggs should be cooked long enough so that the yolks are not runny. Bacteria thrive in undercooked meats and eggs so it is vital to make sure to cook them thoroughly before consumption. The neutropenic individual should avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese, and yogurt. Yogurt must not contain live, active cultures. Soft mold-ripened cheeses, such as blue, Gorgonzola, and Brie, contain high levels of bacteria and present a hazard as well.
The heating involved in the process of pasteurization kills any potentially harmful living microbes and any fruit or vegetable juice that has not undergone this process presents a health risk. A neutropenic diet prohibits cold brewed teas. Well water must be boiled for at least one minute in order to be considered safe for consumption. Bottled water carries significant amounts of microbes as well; acceptable bottled water contains labels that state “distilled” or “reverse osmosis.”