Most cancer therapies deplete the immune system, so take a two-pronged approach — protect and fortify. Your immune strength will likely fluctuate: Different types of treatment (radiation versus bone-marrow transplant, for example) and where you are on the treatment trajectory (in the first few weeks or the final ones) will affect how depleted you may feel.
When your blood is tested before an infusion, Christine Zoumas, MSN, director of the Healing Foods Program at the Moores Cancer Center at University of California San Diego Health, recommends asking your provider, “How immunocompromised am I?” If the answer is “very,” Zoumas suggests the following food-safety precautions:
- Avoid unpasteurized juices and dairy.
- Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs — and watch out for eggs in cookie dough and salad dressings.
- Skip raw sprouts.
- Heat all leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. Invest in a food thermometer if needed.
For fortification, prioritize foods that are rich in phytonutrient polyphenols, including berries, citrus fruits, green tea, leafy greens, garlic, and onions. When in doubt, says Dionne Detraz, RDN, author of The Cancer Diet Cookbook: Comforting Recipes for Treatment and Recovery, choose colorful produce like red bell peppers, blueberries, and beets. “More and more research shows that the color pigments in plants help the body turn off cancer cells and turn on immune cells.”
And don’t forget fungi. Mushrooms are a rich source of beta-glucans, a soluble fiber that nourishes the gut lining. Research also suggests that beta-glucans can modulate the immune system and curb tumor growth.
This was excerpted from “Eating Well During Cancer Care” which was published in the November 2021 issue of Experience Life magazine.