Do you have an upcoming surgery scheduled? Are you wondering if there is a post surgery diet you can follow that is full of vitamins for recovery?
Eating the right foods after surgery can promote faster healing and minimize the swelling, bruising and inflammation that often accompany a surgical procedure. Certain foods can also minimize digestive upset caused by antibiotics and prevent constipation caused by pain meds. Not to mention, fueling your body properly will give you the energy needed to get back to your normal routine more quickly.
What are the best foods to eat after surgery? Here’s our top 10 list:
1. Lean Protein
Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, plays an important role in knitting tissue back together. Typical protein intake is around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. But, after surgery, the demands for protein are much higher, especially if you have incisions to repair. Aim to get 1.5 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, target 102 to 136 grams of protein per day. That’s 25-30 grams per 3 meals and 14-23 grams per 2 snacks.
Getting extra protein doesn’t mean eating more red meat. Excellent lean protein sources include eggs, fish, turkey, beans and legumes. Whey protein like LeanBiotics RS™ Meal Replacement is a tasty and convenient way to boost your protein intake. Whey protein is easily mixed with water (or soy, almond, rice or cashew milk) or incorporated into a smoothie. Check out our Green Smoothie recipe.
2. Fermented Dairy
Antibiotics are routinely prescribed after surgery to prevent infection. While antibiotics kill bad bugs, they also decimate the beneficial bacteria that line your digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria help digest your food and manufacture vitamins plus play a key role in immune system function. Repopulate your digestive tract with fermented dairy products like kefir and yogurt. Kefir is ideal because a small serving provides upwards of 8 to 12 species with over 10 billion live and active cultures. Yogurt provides fewer species and a lower bacterial count. When choosing, read labels as the sugar content and calories are higher with flavored products.
Supplementing with a broad-spectrum probiotic like Probiotic-8 also helps boost beneficial species. Just be sure to take your antibiotics separately from a probiotic. Refer to Antibiotics with Probiotics – What You Need to Know.
Pain medications, anesthetic agents, alterations to diet, dehydration, stress and reduced physical activity after surgery can work against your body’s normal route of elimination. Aside from drinking plenty of water, popping a few prunes each day will help get things moving along. Prunes are a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber which softens and adds bulk to stool.
Other foods that are high in fiber include beans & legumes, apples, pears, bran flakes, oatmeal and flaxseed meal. Check out our list of top fiber sources.
You can also help “move things along” by taking SurgiLax, a natural supplement that helps restore balance and regularity to your digestive system and bowel.
4. Deeply Colored Fruits
The stress of surgery along with the drugs that are used during the procedure generate an increased oxidative load on the body or free-radical production. While your body uses antioxidants to reduce or eliminate these harmful molecules, the requirements are significantly higher after surgery. Boost your antioxidant intake after surgery by eating deeply colored fruits like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and pomegranates. These fruits contain anthocyanidins, compounds that not only enhance the effects of vitamin C, but improve capillary integrity and stabilize collagen matrix.
5. Orange Fruits & Veggies
Sweet potatoes are a superb source of beta carotene or pro-vitamin A which the body converts into vitamin A as needed. Vitamin A is needed for the repair and maintenance of soft tissue, mucus membranes, and skin so significantly boosting your intake (up to 10,000 IUs of vitamin A and another 15,000 IUs of beta-carotene) around the time of surgery makes sense.
Unlike its distant cousin the potato, sweet potatoes aren’t as starchy and provide almost 4 grams of fiber per serving. Just clean and slice a sweet potato into 1” half moons. Toss with a bit of olive oil, season with pepper and salt and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Other excellent sources of beta carotene include carrots, dark leafy greens like kale, cantaloupe, mango and dried apricots.
6. Bell Peppers & Citrus Fruit
Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, providing 340 mg per medium pepper. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that helps cross-link collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and if you’ve had an incision, this protein is crucial to proper wound healing. Stress depletes vitamin C stores so getting extra after surgery is recommended (upwards of 900 mg a day in divided doses).
Other excellent sources of vitamin C include guava, kale, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, and broccoli.
7. Cruciferous Vegetables
Having a robust immune system ensures that your body wards off infection after surgery. Vegetables that contain indoles, phytonutrients that boost immune health, include Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
Have bad childhood memories of these veggies? For great flavor and quick preparation, try roasting Brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Opt for Mashed Cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes for a perfect post-surgery food that is low carb and nutritious.
8. Fungi – Mushrooms
Mushrooms also support a healthy immune system. A recent study showed better-functioning gamma delta T-cells and reductions in inflammatory proteins in participants that ate a 4 oz serving of Shiitake mushrooms daily. Other immune boosting mushrooms include Maitakes and Reishi.
Mushrooms are great stir fried or grilled. Or try making our easy and flavorful Mushroom Soup. Prepare ahead of time so that after surgery, all you have to do is reheat a bowl.
9. Nuts & Seeds
Pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds are an excellent source of zinc. Zinc is necessary for proper immune system function. The body requires zinc to develop and activate cells that are involved in immunity. Zinc is also important to wound healing as this mineral is necessary for protein synthesis and cell growth.
Oysters have the highest concentration of zinc and red meats especially beef, lamb and liver have some of the highest concentrations of zinc in food.
10. Pineapple & Papaya
Pineapple and papaya contain protease enzymes that the body uses to breakdown and digest proteins. As it turns out, these enzymes (bromelain and papain) also help reduce swelling and inflammation. The downside is that bromelain is concentrated in the stem of the pineapple (that chewy part you don’t eat!). So, taking a supplement like Bromelain with Quercetin may be an easier option.
Next time you head to the grocery store, make sure you include these foods on your grocery list so that you can heal faster after surgery!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.