Caring for a loved one who just had surgery, or recovering from an operation yourself? Find out more about the types of food you should eat and avoid after surgery.
After a successful surgery, the medical team that handled your case will prioritise your recovery. The sooner you can get back to normal activities, the better! And while you may not feel like eating, remember that one of the best ways to supercharge your healing is through supplying your body with the right types of nutrition.
An appropriate post-surgery diet helps significantly in wound healing and provides you with adequate energy to do other activities that are essential for your recovery, like physical therapy. Moreover, eating the right kinds of food at the right time is crucial to avoid untoward consequences, such as high blood sugar and constipation, which can complicate your healing.
Please keep in mind that your doctor will give you specific instructions concerning your diet. They will give you a list of what to eat, foods to avoid, and when it’s acceptable to return to a normal diet. You need to follow the doctor’s recommendations because they didn’t just consider the type of surgery you went through – they also considered your existing health conditions and current health status.
To give you an idea of a common post-surgery diet, we prepared a list of the foods to eat and foods to avoid after an operation.
11 FOODS TO EAT AFTER SURGERY
A post-surgery diet requires foods that’ll help you heal quickly. So, what should you eat after surgery?
- Clear and full fluids
Before we talk about good solid food items after surgery, let’s first cover clear and full fluids. Clear and full fluids may be the diet of choice if you underwent a major operation, particularly one that involves the gastrointestinal tract.
A clear liquid diet provides you with the best possible nutrition without compromising your gut. Clear fluid doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll only have “transparent” liquids; it essentially means the fluid has no (or very little) solid food in it, making digestion easier for your GI tract.
Below are some examples of clear fluids:
- Coffee and tea, but without milk or cream
- Clear soup
- Clear, fresh juice, such as apple, cranberry, and grape.
- Honey and plain sugar
Now, a post-surgery diet may also involve a full liquid diet which includes a “fuller” or thicker liquid.
Examples of full liquids you can have are:
- Creamy cereals and soups
- Plain ice cream
- Fruit and vegetable juices
- Coffee and tea with milk or cream
- All items in the clear liquid list can also be consumed under a full-fluid diet.
- Whole grains
Whole grains are on top of the best foods in a post-surgery diet. Not only are they rich in fiber and energy-giving carbohydrates, but they are also filled with vitamins and nutrients that keep your body healthy and ready for recovery.
There are many ways to add whole grains to your diet. Eating rice is one of them, as well as choosing cereals for breakfast. However, please remember to choose whole grains and not the refined variety (white rice, white flour, etc.)
Below are the best examples of whole-grain products to include in your post-surgery diet:
- Whole-wheat bread, pasta, and crackers
- Brown rice
While choosing whole-grain products for your post-surgery diet, experts advise you to check your folic acid intake. According to them, many whole grain food items are not fortified with folic acid, a kind of B vitamin that helps cells work and tissues grow.
- Fresh produce
Next on our list of the best foods for post-surgery diet is fresh produce. Fresh fruits and veggies, like whole grains, also have high fiber and nutrients. They are also rich in antioxidants which help fight off free radicals that cause inflammation.
If fresh fruits are not available, canned and frozen fruits are also good. However, please be mindful of added contents, particularly sugar.
Still, refrain from consuming excessive fruits and vegetables because they might cause gas, which can be quite painful and uncomfortable. And while being gassy typically only lasts a day or two, it may cause abdominal cramping that might require additional medications.
The best fresh produce to eat after your operation include:
- Berries, because you have so many options – from raspberries and strawberries, to blueberries and blackberries. A notable antioxidant content of berries is vitamin C, a micronutrient that helps build collagen for skin repair or wound healing.
- Citrus fruits which includes oranges, grapefruit, and pomelo are excellent sources of vitamin C, too.
- Other bright-coloured fruits, such as apples, peaches, mangoes, papaya, peaches, and melon, are also great foods after surgery.
- Leafy greens like spinach, bok choy, romaine lettuce, and kale are great sources of vitamins A, C, and E. They are also high in vitamin K, which is helpful in blood clotting.
Vegetables you can snack on such as carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts.
But of course, getting a variety of fruits and vegetables is the best, as it ensures that you are also getting a wide range of micronutrients your body needs to heal.
- Lean protein sources
Lean protein sources are those that have little fat content. Protein-rich foods are great foods for wound healing after surgery because they help with tissue repair and infection prevention.
Below are some of the best sources of lean protein:
- Legumes, which include chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils.
- Poultry, but only choose the white meat parts
- Healthy fats
It may be a little hard to believe, but a post-surgery diet will not be complete without healthy fats. Fats help in boosting the immune system and preventing infections. Moreover, healthy fats allow you to better absorb the nutrients you get from all the other food groups, particularly from fruits and vegetables.
Some of the best sources of healthy fats include:
- Olive oil, which you can use in cooking or in salad preparation.
- Coconut oil
Nuts and seeds
- Anti-inflammatory foods
If you’re looking for food for wound healing after surgery, it’s a good idea to consider anti-inflammatory foods. These foods basically lower inflammation and might help with swelling and even disease prevention.
Don’t worry, you won’t have a difficult time finding anti-inflammatory foods to eat after surgery to reduce swelling, because they are easily available. Examples of anti-inflammatory foods are:
- Leafy greens
- Olive oil
- Fatty fish is also a great anti-inflammatory food, but please confirm with your doctor first before you decide to include them in your diet.
- Foods rich in calcium
Calcium is not just for growing kids; adults need it, too, to ensure bone and muscle strength, proper blood clotting, and better nerve impulse regulation. These functions make calcium-rich items great foods after surgery.
Since dairy, a common calcium source, increases the risk of constipation, you may want to rely on other options, such as:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Calcium-fortified products, such as cereals and orange juice
If you can tolerate dairy without getting constipated, consider choosing low-fat alternatives.
- Foods rich in iron
Liver can also be a good food to consume after surgery because it’s rich in iron, a micronutrient you need to replenish red blood cells, especially if your operation involved some blood loss.
Other healthy sources of iron include:
- Soybean flour
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Dried fruits
- Chinese soups
A serving of Chinese soup post-surgery may be a great thing to look forward to. Because Chinese soups often include multiple vegetables and herbs, a bowl will give you your fill of micronutrients and antioxidants. Furthermore, many Chinese soups are chicken-based, which means you’ll also have your fill of protein.
To give you a glimpse of how healthy a Chinese herbal soup is after surgery, let’s consider the findings of a 2019 study which aimed to analyze the medicinal plants used for soup making. In the report, researchers stated that a particular soup uses about 42 medicinal species and that the most prevalent uses of these plants are to:
- Clear inner heat
- Treat inflammation
- Counteract cold in the body
Having soups, such as snakehead fish soup after surgery, may also prove beneficial as it might help in wound healing. One research even concluded that using a spray made from snakehead fish resulted in better pain scores and cosmetic outcomes after an operation.
Finally, let’s not forget the Chinese black chicken soup. Made from black chicken, this Chinese soup is not only a great source of protein but also filled with antioxidants, vitamins, iron, calcium, and protein.
Here are a couple of reminders when including Chinese soups in your loved one’s post-surgery diet:
Take extra care about excess oil since Chinese soups can become oily because of the fats coming from the ingredients, particularly the meat. For this reason, be sure to use lean meat and avoid using the fatty part of chicken, beef, or fish. Additionally, you can remove excess oil manually with the use of oil-separator spoons.
Remove the skin of the meat since this can also reduce the amount of oil in the soup.
Add more vegetables and herbs to provide your loved one with a variety of beneficial food items to boost their recovery
- Fish essence
A post-surgery diet may include fish essence. Many fish essence supplements include other beneficial ingredients, such as ginseng, that boost the immune system and increase energy levels.
- Chicken essence
Besides fish essence, you might also want to consider chicken essence, which is made from the extract of high-quality chickens. It’s a good food after surgery because it keeps both the mind and body sharp.4 FOODS TO AVOID AFTER A SURGERY
- Foods that might cause constipation
The prescription medicines you take to relieve pain together with your general immobility can increase the likelihood of constipation, which can then lead to significant discomfort (and sometimes even pain). Furthermore, constipation can result in straining – an act that might stress or reopen your incision wounds.
Generally, avoid high-fat meats, eggs, dairy products, and sugary sweets. According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), these foods are low in fiber and may lead to constipation.
- Spicy foods
Spicy foods are also included in the list of foods to avoid after surgery. Surgeons often don’t recommend eating spicy foods immediately after surgery because they may upset the stomach.
A 2010 study also suggested that spices, such as turmeric and ginger (which contain curcumin), can reduce the risk of fatal blood clots. However, too much curcumin might interfere with blood clotting, an important aspect of wound healing.
- Alcoholic beverages
Alcoholic beverages are one of the foods you shouldn’t have after an operation. This is because alcohol cannot be combined with your pain medicines.
Additionally, alcohol can trigger dehydration, and after your surgery, you need all the hydration you can get to heal as quickly as possible.
- Highly processed foods
Some of the foods you need to avoid after surgery are those that are highly processed. Not only are they usually low in fiber (which can cause constipation), but in most cases, they also lack the nutrients your body needs to heal. Additionally, many highly-processed foods promote unnecessary inflammation.
Highly processed foods include sugary drinks, store-bought pastries, candies, chocolates, frozen desserts, fast foods, like fries and hamburgers, and processed meats, such as sausages and deli meats (cold cuts).
FOODS TO AVOID AFTER SURGERY, ACCORDING TO TCM
If you’ve been doing some research about the post-surgery diet, you must have come across readings about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
For instance, according to TCM, foods to avoid after surgery include seafood and chicken. However, there is little evidence to prove this claim, and experts still believe that seafood and poultry are great sources of lean protein.
Finally, you must have heard about avoiding soy sauce since they make the wound darker. But this is a myth, since scarring of wounds is a part of the normal healing process and how obvious a scar is often depends on other factors, like how you take care of the wound until it completely heals.
Case in point, one study concluded that chicken essence could be an anti-fatigue food because it’s effective for recovery from mental fatigue. Another paper also suggests that chicken essence can boost the immune system and that it has antioxidant and anti-stress effects.
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Do follow the doctor’s orders when it comes to your post-surgery diet and nutrition.
For example, whole-wheat bread may be a good fiber source, but if you have gluten intolerance, you might want to switch to gluten-free grains. Likewise, some foods that trigger constipation, such as eggs, are well-tolerated by others, so the doctor may allow you to have them. The type of surgery you had and the medicines you take also play a role in the kind of post-surgery diet you should have.
To be sure about the foods you can eat after your operation, follow the plan given to you by your physician or dietician. After some time, you can get in touch with them again to modify or change your diet.
This article first appeared on Homage, an award-winning personal care solution that provides on-demand holistic home and community-based caregiving services to seniors and adults, allowing them to age and recover with grace, control, and dignity.
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