After school snacks, Neutropenic diets, Phytochemical content of broccoli

Q: I’m determined to provide my children with healthy after-school snacks this year. What should I give them?
Q: Do neutropenic diets really help protect people during cancer treatment?
Q: Is it true that steaming maintains phytochemical content better than other ways of cooking broccoli?

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: I’m determined to provide my children with healthy after-school snacks this year. What should I give them?

A: Since most Americans, young and old, don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits, try including them in an afternoon snack. Fresh fruits, raw vegetable sticks, baby carrots, raisins, unsweetened applesauce and frozen grapes or bananas are all good treats. Sometimes a dip made from plain yogurt or cottage cheese makes veggies more fun for kids to eat. Some children need more substantial snacks than others, depending upon how big a lunch they eat, how early they eat dinner and how much of a growth spurt they are in at the time. For snacks that will sustain a child more than just an hour or two, try including a little bit of low fat protein. You could offer a piece of string cheese with fruit, cereal with milk and fruit, whole grain English muffins with peanut butter or melted reduced-fat cheese, or hummus dip with vegetables and a couple pita bread wedges. Children also enjoy making their own snack combinations. Ask for a hand in making a trail mix of dried fruits, bite-size cereals, pretzels and a few nuts; a yogurt, fruit and cereal parfait; or homemade fruit and yogurt smoothies.

Q: Do neutropenic diets really help protect people during cancer treatment?

A: Neutropenic (nu-tro-PEE-nik) diets aim to protect people if their immune system weakens during cancer treatment. Most food contains some bacteria, but normally our immune systems quickly destroy it. People with fewer white blood cells to provide immune function may not be able to do so, and neutropenic diets can help these patients avoid risky food and drink. Neutropenic diets usually allow: meat, chicken and fish only if cooked well-done; vegetables and fruits only if cooked, canned or frozen; pasteurized canned or frozen juice; vacuum-packed luncheon meat; and well water if boiled at least one minute. Yogurt and other dairy products with active cultures, soft or mold-containing cheese (Brie, feta, blue), and raw or stir-fried vegetables and fruits must be avoided. Although these diets are often prescribed in cancer treatment centers and hospitals, research support is limited; some studies suggest that the extra steps in a neutropenic diet may add little additional protection. But since infections can delay treatment or even pose life-threatening risk, treatment teams may choose to take the extra precaution. Even if a neutropenic diet is not ordered, do note that the basic food safety precautions that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) urges all of us to use become more important than ever when immune function is low. These include: washing hands thoroughly before cooking and eating, cleaning cutting surfaces carefully and avoiding cross-contamination.

Q: Is it true that steaming maintains phytochemical content better than other ways of cooking broccoli?

A: Not necessarily. Cooking in large amounts of water, whether on the stove or in the microwave, has been shown to allow loss of broccoli’s vitamin C content as well as a decrease in glucosinolates (cancer-fighting compounds found in cruciferous vegetables). The good news is that steaming, stir-frying and microwaving with just a little added water all seem to maintain these protective compounds.

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