What to Eat During Your Recovery After Surgery

What to Eat After Surgery

carrot and beet salad
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If you have had surgery, the food you eat can make a great impact on your recovery and on how quickly your wound heals. Eating the right foods can prevent complications, such as constipation, and provide the necessary building blocks of protein your skin needs to heal quickly.

One of the best things you can do to improve your nutritional status when you are recovering from surgery is to focus on whole foods. That means to choose foods that are “whole” or unprocessed. For example, an orange would be a whole food. Orange juice, though, would be a more processed version. A baked potato would be a whole food, while a French fry would be more processed and less healthy, having been fried. Aim to obtain most of your nutrition from whole foods, which is actually a healthy way to eat every day, not just the weeks following surgery.

Processed foods tend to have higher amounts of fat, sugar, salt, and chemical additives, but far less fiber and vitamins than their whole food counterparts. One easy way to stick to more nutritious, less-processed foods is to focus on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Most grocery stores are set up with unprocessed foods on the outermost areas of the store in the produce, butcher/fish, dairy, and bread areas. By doing most of your shopping in those areas, you will naturally choose healthier foods.

Include Fiber in Your Diet After Surgery

Bowls of Vegetables
Healthy Food After Surgery Is Important. Patrizia Savarese/Getty Images

Focus on Fiber After Your Surgery

It is important to include fiber in your diet as you are recovering from surgery. Not only are high-fiber foods healthier than their low-fiber counterparts, fiber plays a major role in preventing constipation, a common complication after surgery.

High Fiber Foods:

  • Whole grain breads - Look for breads that use whole grains and are darker in color. White bread is typically too refined to be a good source of fiber.
  • Fruits - Fresh fruit is an excellent source of vitamins and fiber.
  • Vegetables - Vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and can be purchased fresh or frozen.
  • Cereal - Not all cereal has a high-fiber content. Check the label to avoid sugary or low-fiber cereal. Look for cereal with fiber in the name, or stick with old-fashioned breakfast foods, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat.

Foods that Can Cause Constipation

apples in a row
Fresh Fruit For Faster Healing. Image: © American Images Inc/Getty Images

Constipation is common after surgery because prescription pain medications are often used in the days following a surgical procedure and have a known side effect of decreasing the movement of the intestines.  While some foods can help prevent or treat constipation, there are other foods that can make constipation more likely. Constipation can increase your pain level and can place additional stress on your incision, so it is important to avoid whenever possible.

Foods Likely to Cause Constipation:

  • Dried or dehydrated foods - These include dried fruits (prunes are an exception, they can help to ease constipation), beef jerky, and some types of potato chips.
  • Processed Foods
  • Cheese
  • Milk and Dairy Products
  • Red Meat
  • Sweets - including pastries, candies, cakes, and other sugary foods

Focus on Lean Protein

Lean protein can be found in lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and pork. Seafood, including fish, is also an excellent source of lean protein. Red meat is not recommended because of the high level of saturated fat and because it can trigger constipation.

If you don’t eat meat, or don’t enjoy meat, protein comes from many sources other than meat. Consider nuts, tofu, beans and “vegetarian” foods, such as tempeh and texturized vegetable protein (TVP) to supplement your protein needs. Dairy products are also a source of protein, but they can cause constipation, so they should be used in moderation.

If you are having difficulty eating, consider supplementing your diet with protein powder, which can be added to drinks, such as smoothies.

Whole Grains Instead of Refined Grains

Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Be sure to choose whole grain breads and cereals whenever possible, rather than the refined "white" versions. Rice is a great way to add whole grains to your diet, but many types of rice are so processed that the nutritional value is minimal. For both nutrients and fiber content, choose brown rice or other varieties that are not processed, and avoid white rice.

Breakfast is an ideal time to add whole grains and fiber to your diet. Skip the bacon and eggs and choose oatmeal or another whole grain cereal, whole wheat bread and fresh fruit for your morning meal.

If you have had surgery on your intestines, make sure you are permitted to eat whole grains during your recovery before adding them to your diet. 

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh fruit and vegetables contain both nutrients and fiber, which are essential to healing during your recovery from surgery. While fresh is best, frozen or canned items are also good. Try to emphasize items that are not processed, such as fresh broccoli, and avoid processed foods, such as canned broccoli soup.

One side effect of eating more fruits and vegetables than usual is gas. While this can be an annoying or embarrassing problem, it should pass within a day or two. If the gas is so severe that you feel stomach pressure or abdominal cramping, you can decrease your intake of fresh produce or use a gas reliever, such as Beano or Gas-X (simethicone). 

Dairy Products After Surgery

Dairy products are an excellent source of protein, which is essential to healing after surgery. Many people, though, find that consuming dairy products can lead to constipation after surgery. There is also evidence that dairy products can increase secretions in the lungs, so if you have a chronic cough, it may be worthwhile to avoid dairy products in the short term.

If you can eat dairy products without becoming constipated, focus on low-fat items, such as skim milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Cheese, low-fat or not, should be eaten in moderation until you can determine if eating it will cause you to become constipated.

Trouble Eating Enough After Surgery?

Sometimes it is difficult to eat after surgery because of a lack of appetite. This typically passes a few days after surgery, but it is important to continue eating nutritious foods during this part of your recovery. Constipation can cause a lack of appetite. If this is the case, speak to your surgeon about ways to relieve constipation before taking over-the-counter remedies.

While most people in America could stand to lose a few pounds, skipping meals after surgery is not the way to do it. Failing to eat enough after surgery can slow healing and delay the closure of your incision.

If you are not constipated and are still having difficulty with your appetite, consider calorie-dense foods, such as a smoothie, which can contain dairy, fruit and even protein powder as necessary. If you are unable to consume enough calories after your surgery, try to eat calorie-dense foods whenever possible. That means eating foods that contain more calories per bite than others. For example, a cup of green salad would be a food low in calories per cup, while avocado would be very high in calories per cup.

If consuming enough calories is an issue, you may want to eliminate low-calorie and calorie-free items from your diet until you are able to eat adequately. For example, use regular salad dressing, replace diet soda with juice or full-calorie soda and (in general) avoid foods that say “lite, sugar-free, calorie-free, diet, low-fat, or low-calorie” on the label.

12 Easy Ways to Add Calories to Your Diet

If you are having difficulty getting enough calories in your diet after surgery, your recovery could be adversely affected. These tips can help you add calories to your diet without having to eat noticeably more; however, these changes are not necessarily heart healthy. This way of eating is reserved for people who are unable to consume enough calories, as this is not an ideal nutritional plan.

These changes are not suggested for someone who is able to eat well after surgery, but reserved for those who are having problems eating enough calories to support a healthy recovery. When you are able to return to a healthier diet, eliminating saturated fats and sugar while emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, it is important to do so.

12 Ways to Sneak Calories into Your Diet

  • Use heavy cream instead of non-fat dairy creamer.
  • Use real sugar, not sugar substitute.
  • Use real butter, not low-calorie butter spreads or sprays.
  • Cook with oil, not with cooking spray.
  • Choose full calorie options if possible when eating prepared foods, such as frozen meals.
  • Suck on mints or candy.
  • Eat the highest calorie items on your plate first.
  • Keep a full-calorie beverage (juice, lemonade, soda) nearby, and drink from it whenever possible.
  • Add a dietary supplement, such as Ensure or protein bars, to your diet.
  • Snack between meals.
  • Choose vegetables with more calories, such as avocados and potatoes rather than lettuce.
  • Add a bedtime snack to your schedule.

Source: Constipation Cure-How to Get Rid of Constipation. Dr. John Anne. http://hubpages.com/hub/Constipation_Cure

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