Eating well after transplant: Expert tips for you

Posted May 2nd, 2019 by Be The Match and filed in News
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Brittany Beaver, MS, RD, CSP, LD, Texas Children’s Hospital

Good nutrition is a key part of gaining strength after transplant. But transplant changes things. Nutritional needs and tastes may change, sometimes making it hard to eat healthy. This can especially difficult for parents of young transplant recipients who may already be picky eaters. Brittany Beaver, MS, RD, CSP, LD, from Texas Children’s Hospital, offers some healthy eating tips for you or your child.

Healthy food basics

Did you know that a healthy diet after transplant includes a variety of foods that you already enjoy? According to Brittany, “a healthy diet after transplant includes fat, carbohydrates (carbs), protein, fruits and vegetables.” Limit how much you eat of highly processed, packaged, and sugary foods. But keep in mind you don’t need to cut them from your diet entirely. Carbs and fats sometimes get a bad reputation, but they are good in moderation. In fact, Brittany says, “eating enough fats and calories can help you maintain your weight, lower your risk of infections, and repair damage to your body from transplant.”

Avoid infection or illness from your food

Handling food safely helps you avoid getting sick, and it’s especially important when you have a weaker immune system. Fortunately, Brittany notes that “there are fewer and fewer restrictions during and after transplant as many hospitals are now moving away from low microbial diets or neutropenic diets that limit fresh fruits and vegetables.” Safe food handling is still very important. But researchers have found that these special diets don’t actually lower the risk of infection.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has guidelines for safe food handling. They include:

  • Eat at trustworthy restaurants. Check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) food safety tips for eating at restaurants.
  • Cook food to safe internal temperatures
  • Store food at safe temperatures
  • Reheat leftovers to safe temperatures

Brittany says, “There is no reason to avoid fresh fruit or vegetables as long as they are washed.” Simply rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables, like apples and potatoes, under running tap water. Do this even if you don’t eat the skin or rind. You don’t need to use a special vegetable wash.

Nutrition and steroids

Steroids are often the main treatment for chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). But they can cause side effects like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and swelling. If you’re taking steroids, adjusting your diet may help you to avoid or reduce some of these side effects. Brittany recommends eating foods that are relatively low in salt and sugar. “Focus on complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and lower sugar fruits, such as berries, green apples and kiwi,” she advises. “Avoid simple sugars such as soda, juice, sports drinks, and sweets.”

Tips for parents

Eating protein helps your child’s body gain strength after transplant. “All kids’ taste buds react differently during chemotherapy and transplant. But it’s common for kids to have difficulty eating enough protein after transplant,” says Brittany. Meat and fish are great options for protein, but if your child doesn’t like meat consider other high-protein foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, tofu and dairy.

It’s also common for kids to have low levels of vitamin D after transplant. Brittany advises that “their vitamin D level should always be checked by a doctor before your child takes any supplements.” Also, check in with the doctor, pharmacist or dietitian before giving your child any supplements, herbs, vitamins, or minerals. Some of these can interact with their medicines.

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