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Colorectal Surgery Nutrition Guidelines

The most common surgery for colorectal cancer is called a colon resection (colectomy). The surgeon removes part of the colon and then joins the remaining parts back together. Your surgeon calls this anastomosis. Other specific types of surgery may include: partial colectomy or right colectomy (ileocolectomy). Regardless of surgery type, nutrition and diet play a very important role in the preparation for the surgery and immediately after the surgery.

Here are some tips and guidelines that will help you with your diet and nutrition before and after your surgery.

Follow your surgeon’s instructions very carefully before your surgery.

Your surgeon will most likely give you very specific instructions to follow in the days leading up to your surgery. It is very important to follow these to minimize any complications and to allow your surgeon to do the best job possible.

Give your colon adequate time to heal and transition slowly back to a regular diet.

While you are in the hospital, your medical team will help you with your diet and advance it as appropriate, adding in new food items. If you are still having difficulty tolerating food when you are discharged from the hospital, contact a registered dietitian.

Common diets your healthcare team may suggest after colorectal surgery.

  • Clear Liquids: Clear liquids include juice (without pulp), broth, tea, soft drinks, gelatin, fruit ice, popsicles, and water.
  • Full Liquids: Full liquids includes all liquids allowed on a clear liquid diet, cream soup, milk, milk shakes, nutrition supplements, pudding, custard, ice cream, and cooked hot cereals such as oatmeal, grits, or cream cereals.

Note: Dairy products such as milk and foods made with milk may cause nausea or increase nausea. Avoid these foods if you are not tolerating them well.

  • Low Fiber: Choose white bread, rice cereals, white rice, and regular pasta. Avoid all whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and popcorn.  Avoid raw vegetables and juices with pulp. Avoid fresh and canned pineapple, prune juice, prunes, dried fruit, jam, and marmalade. Avoid nuts, seeds, chunky peanut butter (Creamy peanut butter is okay.), tough meats, fried foods (french fries, fast food), beans, peas, hot dogs, sausage, strong flavored cheeses, coconut, raisins, and desserts with nuts or raisins. Check out our Sample Menu for ideas.

Food tolerance after surgery is not “one size fits all”. Be patient with yourself.

Introduce foods slowly, one at a time, and in small portions. Wait 1-2 hours after trying a new food to see how your body digests it and reacts. Eating too much and too many foods all at once will make it difficult to tell which foods (if any) are problematic. It may be helpful to keep a food diary to help you keep track of which foods are not well tolerated. If you are experiencing nausea, be sure to take anti-nausea medication as prescribed. Consult a registered dietitian if you have prolonged nausea that is keeping you from trying to eat healthy foods.

Try to establish regular eating habits and strive for 4-6 small meals per day.

Smaller portions of food are easier on the digestive system. Your body may also absorb nutrients more readily from smaller portions. Smaller meals eaten at regular intervals may help to establish regularity in your bowel habits.

Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Staying well hydrated will help in the recovery process. A general goal for daily water consumption is eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day. Water is preferred but caffeine-free tea, broth, and other liquids do count.

If your colon surgery requires an ostomy bag, consult a registered dietitian for advice.

There are specific dietary guidelines and advice for people with colostomy and ileostomy bags. A registered dietitian can assist you by making individualized recommendations.