Foods to avoid during cancer treatment

January 17, 2018 | by Doreen Berard, RD, LDN

Good nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment, but it can be challenging. Your appetite may change, and the way food tastes and smells may be different. How do you eat well so you can better heal and recover?

Throughout your treatment, how you handle, clean, prepare and store foods is going to be more important than ever, even if you haven’t had issues in the past. Because cancer and its treatment can weaken your immune system, you may be more susceptible to developing a foodborne illness like food poisoning.  

Try following these four steps when cooking:

  • Clean – Wash your hands and surfaces often
  • Separate – Keep raw meat and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods  
  • Cook – Cook food to the right temperatures
  • Chill – Promptly chill raw meat and poultry, as well as cooked leftovers (within 2 hours)

Since some foods have a higher risk of becoming tainted with bacteria, you should also avoid these foods during treatment:

  • Raw or lightly cooked fish, shellfish, lox, sushi or sashimi
  • Raw or soft-cooked eggs (over-easy, poached, soft-boiled, sunny side up)
  • Foods that may contain raw eggs (Caesar salad dressing, homemade eggnog, raw cookie dough)
  • Deli foods
  • Raw or undercooked meat or poultry 
  • Smoked fish and refrigerated pâté
  • Soft, mold-ripened or blue-veined cheeses (Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, blue cheese)
  • Any raw vegetable sprouts
  • Unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy vegetables that can hide dirt and other contaminants
  • Unrefrigerated, cream-filled pastry products
  • Raw honey or honeycomb
  • Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices 
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products

Modifying your food regime at home doesn’t mean you can’t dine out at a restaurant anymore. You just need to plan ahead and think about what you are going to eat before you get there. 

Because your kitchen at home is different than a kitchen at a restaurant, try eating out at a time when restaurants are less crowded, so you can communicate your needs with the server. Follow these tips when dining out:

  • Do not eat from high-risk food sources, including salad bars, delicatessens, buffets and smorgasbords, potlucks, and sidewalk vendors.
  • Do not eat raw fruits and vegetables when eating out.
  • Ask if fruit juices are pasteurized. Avoid “fresh-squeezed” juices in restaurants.
  • Be sure that utensils are set on a napkin or clean tablecloth or placemat, rather than right on the table.
  • If you want to keep your leftovers, ask for a container, and put the food in it yourself rather than having the server take your food to the kitchen to do this.
  • If you are struggling or if you are having issues with your diet, talk with a dietitian. A dietitian can give you meal planning strategies so you stay healthy throughout cancer treatment.

What foods do you avoid throughout treatment? Tell us in the below comments. 

Related blogs: 

Eat this or that: eating well and fighting cancer

How to stay nourished during cancer treatment

What does an anti-cancer diet look like?

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