foods to avoid during chemotherapy

foods to avoid during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy, a treatment that uses powerful chemicals to target and destroy fast-growing cancer cells, can significantly affect your overall health. One common side effect is immune suppression, which increases the risk of infections. To reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses during chemotherapy, it’s essential to be mindful of your diet.

Foods to Avoid

1. Undercooked or Raw Meats and Fish
Avoid undercooked or raw meats and fish, including sushi, sashimi, and lox. These foods can harbor harmful bacteria and parasites.

2. Unpasteurized Dairy Products
Steer clear of unpasteurized milk products such as raw milk, yogurt, and certain cheeses like blue cheese, brie, stilton, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and queso blanco fresco. Pasteurization is a heat process that kills harmful bacteria, making these products safer for consumption.

3. Raw Eggs and Products Containing Them
Raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, hollandaise sauce, and uncooked cookie dough, can carry Salmonella bacteria. Ensure eggs are thoroughly cooked before eating.

4. Dry-Cured or Smoked Meats
Avoid dry-cured raw salami or smoked fish, as these products may contain harmful pathogens. While these preservation methods inhibit bacteria growth, they are not as effective as high-temperature cooking.

5. Unwashed Fruits, Sprouts, and Vegetables
Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption to remove surface contaminants. Avoid raw sprouts, as they have a higher risk of bacterial growth. Opt for cooked or well-washed produce.

6. Open-Case and Bulk-Bin Items
Avoid foods stored in open cases or bulk bins, such as deli meats and bulk cereals. These items are exposed to potential pathogens each time the containers are opened.

7. Raw Nuts and Fresh Nut Butters
Raw nuts and fresh nut butters can harbor pathogens like Salmonella. Choose roasted nuts and commercially prepared nut butters to reduce this risk.

8. Cream-Filled Baked Goods
Cream-filled baked goods often contain milk-based fillings, which can be ideal environments for foodborne pathogens. It’s best to avoid these during chemotherapy.

9. Raw Honey or Honeycomb
Raw honey can carry pathogens such as those that cause botulism. Consult your healthcare provider before consuming raw honey during cancer treatment.

10. Untreated Water
Avoid drinking water from untreated sources like wells, springs, or streams. These sources can contain harmful microorganisms and pathogens.

Foods to Boost Your Immune System

While avoiding risky foods, it’s also important to consume foods that can support your immune system during chemotherapy. Focus on nutrient-rich foods that provide vitamins and minerals essential for immune function.

1. Vitamin-Rich Foods
Foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc are particularly beneficial. Include sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash, pumpkin seeds, lentils, salmon, and eggs in your diet.

2. Small, Frequent Meals
If you experience a poor appetite during chemotherapy, try eating small, frequent meals. This can help you meet your energy needs without exacerbating symptoms.

Importance of Diet During Chemotherapy

Managing your diet during chemotherapy is crucial for maintaining your overall health and supporting your treatment. Eating the right foods helps keep your body strong, supports metabolic and functional health, and reduces the risk of malnutrition. Ensuring adequate protein, calories, vitamins, and minerals can help your body stay resilient throughout the treatment process.


To reduce the risk of foodborne illness during chemotherapy, avoid foods that may increase your chances of infection. Focus on thoroughly cooked foods and washed produce, and skip bin-style and deli cooler items. By being mindful of your diet, you can help maintain your health and support your cancer treatment

A Quick Review

Avoiding certain foods during chemotherapy can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Stay away from undercooked meats, raw fish, unpasteurized dairy, raw eggs, and unwashed produce. Focus on nutrient-rich, immune-boosting foods like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and salmon to support your health during treatment


Why should I avoid raw and undercooked foods during chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections from bacteria and parasites found in raw and undercooked foods.

Can I eat dairy products while on chemotherapy?

Yes, but only pasteurized dairy products. Avoid unpasteurized milk, yogurt, and certain cheeses to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

How can I boost my immune system during chemotherapy?

Include foods rich in vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc, such as sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash, pumpkin seeds, lentils, salmon, and eggs in your diet.

Is it safe to drink raw honey during chemotherapy?

Raw honey can carry dangerous pathogens such as those that cause botulism. Consult your healthcare provider before consuming it.

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