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Chemotherapy and Sushi? A Nutrition Delema

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Safe & Savory Swaps

Chemo & Sushi: Don’t risk Raw!

Sushi has been a popular dish in the last couple of years and continues to grow. Health-conscious individuals appreciate sushi because of its low fat content and high nutritional value. However, if you are undergoing chemotherapy should avoid sushi because of the higher risks of developing food-borne illnesses and mercury contamination. However, this does not mean you should avoid all kinds of fish. This post will explain why sushi might be off-limits during chemotherapy and offer alternative options for you or your loved one undergoing chemotherapy. 

Main Reasons to Avoid Sushi During Chemo:

  1. Weakened Immune System:
    • According to the CDC, chemotherapy is used to kill fast-growing cancer cells. As a result, it damages our immune system by minimizing the number of infection-fighting white blood cells. The FDA states that a side effect of a weakened immune system makes patients more vulnerable to infections like foodborne illnesses. 
    • Eating raw fish increases the risk of parasitic infections and food poisoning.
      •  Anisakis is a fish parasite that causes severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting within hours of eating. 
      • Vibrio vulnificus can enter the bloodstream, resulting in a life-threatening whole-body infection- usually found in oysters, clams, and crabs. 
  2. Mercury Concerns:
    • Mercury contamination can occur in certain fish used in sushi. The larger fish eat many smaller fish containing small amounts of mercury. This is not easily eliminated from their bodies, and the levels of mercury build up over time. In summary, the larger and longer-lived fish usually contain higher levels of mercury. 
    • It can negatively impact the nervous system and overall health, especially for vulnerable individuals like cancer patients—high exposure to mercury results in irritability, fatigue, behavioral changes, tremors, and headaches. 
    • Sushi with higher levels of mercury includes Ahi (yellowfin tuna), Ají (horse mackerel), Buri (adult yellowtail), Hamachi (young yellowtail), and Inada ( very young yellowtail).
  3. Other Considerations:
    • It is vital to take into consideration the importance of practicing food safety. Raw or undercooked foods can contain dangerous bacteria or viruses, eventually leading to infections. It is important to keep raw meat and poultry apart from other foods when storing food to avoid cross-contamination.
    • You are most likely to reduce these cross-contamination risks if you cook at home rather than eating out in a restaurant. Dining out is a gamble regarding food safety, as restaurants rarely offer details about their food handling practices.
    • Many chemotherapies will target fast-growing cancer cells that eventually disrupt the growth of some cells involved in digestion. As a result, they could have possible side effects like vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. 

Alternative Delicious Options:

  • Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. A dish including salmon is called Greek grilled salmon kebabs with tzatziki and green beans. Another great dish is grilled tuna, orange, and jicama salad with red onion dressing and a seared salmon with pesto fettuccine.
  • Do you like crunchy and juicy vegetables? Another great option is vegetarian sushi with cooked vegetables, tofu, or tempeh.
Vegetable Sushi Roll

  Delicious alternatives to fuel your journey:

  • Incorporating lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables into your diet is crucial. Each one of these items provides different types of nutrients. There are also various ways we can prepare them. Just a simple Google search can open us to endless possibilities. Remember not to be afraid of trying out something new. 
  • It is essential to consult with your dietitian for personalized dietary guidance. Every single person is different and prefers different things. 

Nourish your Body 

While delicious, sushi can pose risks during chemo. Opt for safe foods & explore nourishing alternatives to support your health & treatment journey. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized guidance.

Let’s help each other out. Please share some of your experiences and tips for navigating food cravings and dietary restrictions during chemotherapy in the comments below. 

Some helpful resources:

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