Greens & The Immunosuppressed Diet

Sauteed Chard, Anti-cancer Recipes - Cook for Your Life

I just read that leafy greens are a cause of a lot of food-borne illnesses, but I also know they are supposed to be really good for you. If I am on an immunosuppressed diet (aka neutropenic diet), should I stay away from them?

What a dilemma! Dark leafy greens, such as kale, collards, broccoli, and spinach, are among the most nutrient-dense vegetables. So they are frequently recommended for people living with cancer. The short answer to your question is, no you shouldn’t stay away from them.  But when eating greens, you do have to follow excellent food safety practices.

The immunosuppressed diet is prescribed for patients whose immune system has been weakened by strong chemotherapy, particularly after a stem cell transplant. These patients are more vulnerable to bacterial infections, some of which can come from food, so they have to avoid eating undercooked or raw meats or fish, and foods from hot tables or salad bars in case they haven’t been stored at the proper temperature to keep them safe.

But at home it is a different matter. To avoid these harmful bacteria, fruits and vegetables that are to be eaten raw have to be washed thoroughly. The best way is by holding the food under running water and brushing with a vegetable brush. Additionally, some people soak the food in vinegar water or a commercial rinse.

When it comes to greens, however, scrubbing with a brush is not really feasible, but they can be eaten raw if carefully washed under running water or soaked in vinegar water. To be on the safe side, we recommend re-washing all commercially pre-washed salad greens. But if you are in any doubt, after careful washing, steam your greens for 3 minutes. The cooking process should destroy any harmful bacteria, plus wilted greens can make great salads! Click here for ideas!

And since every patient’s circumstances are different, please, always get guidance from your medical team’s nutritionist.

Do you have a nutrition question for Esther? Send us a message at, post a comment on Facebook, or Tweet at us!  (All questions will remain anonymous when posted on the site.) 


Registered Dietitian Approved

There are many misconceptions about nutrition and cancer in widespread media. By using current scientific literature, plus recommendations of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society, our Registered Dietitian, Kate Ueland, MS, RD, and our team of editors work to help our readers discern truth from myth.

The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Always consult your physician or registered dietitian for specific medical advice.

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