What is an immunocompromised person?
People who suffer from certain medical conditions and/or medical treatments have immune systems that are not working correctly. The result is that they have trouble fighting disease. This sometimes is because of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), the drugs that are prescribed for cancer patients or transplant patients, or diseases of the immune system.
Individuals with blood disorders such as chronic lymphatic leukemia and multiple myeloma also are immunocompromised. Elderly persons are more susceptible to infections than younger people, so they often are considered as immunocompromised. People who are immunocompromised must use care to avoid even minor illnesses, such as colds, food poisoning, and other problems, which can cause serious results.
Can the foods you eat affect your immune system?
A healthy diet definitely plays a role in maintaining the strongest immune system possible. Follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines) and the MyPlate guidelines (www.ChooseMyPlate.gov) for basic good nutrition. Key nutrients for those who are immunocompromised include protein, vitamins, and minerals, as well as calories.
Enough protein is needed in the diet to build, maintain, and repair body tissues. Protein is found in meats, dairy foods, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and soy. Consume protein two to three times daily.
Calories are needed to supply the body with energy and prevent unintended weight loss. Most women need at least 2000 calories/day, and most men need about 2500 calories/day. If you have a medical condition that affects your body’s immune function, you may need additional calories.
Vitamins and minerals are needed to trigger numerous chemical reactions in your body and to help keep your body working properly.
Do I need a nutritional supplement to help keep my body healthier?
Perhaps. Dietitians always recommend that you get nutrition from foods first. However, if you have poor intake, vomiting, or diarrhea, or are unable to eat much because of your condition, a vitamin supplement or liquid nutritional supplement such as Ensure might help. A registered dietitian can help you look at your situation and decide whether or not you need a nutritional supplement.
How can I eat enough if I do not have much of an appetite?
Medicines or a medical condition can cause a poor appetite. If you are not eating much at all, it is important to make every bite count.
Follow these suggestions:
Try to limit ’empty-calorie’ foods and drinks, and consume healthier foods, such as:
Vegetables, including dried beans and peas
Eat six small meals daily, instead of three large ones, if you cannot eat much at one sitting
Keep healthy snacks, such as nuts and dried fruits, in your car, purse, or briefcase, so you always have something available if you feel an urge to eat
Drink nutritious beverages, such as pasteurized fruit juices, milk, and liquid nutritional supplements, if you prefer to drink something instead of eating
If I have diarrhea, what can I eat?
When you have diarrhea, it is important to drink plenty of fluids in order to replace what you have lost.
Avoid certain foods, including:
Fried foods – eating fried foods may make the diarrhea worse
Milk – if you have a condition called lactose intolerance, try to avoid milk and milk products for a few days to see if you notice a difference
If you have long-lasting diarrhea, you may benefit from consulting with a registered dietitian, who can try to help you identify specific foods that are causing your problem. Also talk to your doctor, because the diarrhea sometimes is a side effect of a medicine or treatment you are receiving.
Do I need to worry about food poisoning?
Yes. Remember, if you are immunocompromised, you are more susceptible to minor illnesses, including food poisoning. If you are not careful about the way your food is cooked or stored, germs may pass to you from your food.
Use these tips for keeping your food safe:
Separate raw meats from other raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables
Avoid cross-contamination from raw meats by storing and preparing raw meat separately, so that the meat does not come in contact with fruits, vegetables, and uncooked foods
Use separate cutting boards and cooking utensils for meat, so that juices from raw meats are not allowed to contact uncooked foods
Keep hot foods hot (more than 135˚ F) and cold foods cold (under 41˚ F)
Limit the amount of time that foods are left at room temperature to prevent germs from growing in them
Wash all fruits and vegetables with warm water and a soft bristle brush
Thaw frozen meat or poultry in a refrigerator or under cold running water, not at room temperature
Avoid raw fish, shellfish, unpasteurized juices, uncooked eggs, and dishes containing uncooked eggs