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Nutrition and Surgery Guidelines

The outcomes of a surgery are directly related to nutrition status prior to and after surgery. It is very important to eat a well balanced diet prior to surgery including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and an adequate amount of protein. Vitamins, minerals, and protein are vital to the healing process. A single nutrient deficiency can impair the immune system causing significant delays in the healing process and a decrease in ability for the body to fight an infection. Follow these guidelines beginning at least three weeks prior to surgery or as long as possible prior to surgery to optimize your nutrition for a faster recovery:

Eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. Choose a wide variety of colors.

One serving of fruit is one piece of fruit (such as a medium orange or apple) or ½ cup of canned or frozen fruit. One serving of vegetables is ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of B vitamins as well as antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E). The vitamins in fruits and vegetables support the body’s immune system before, during, and after surgery. Frozen vegetables and fruit are good to have available when shopping frequently is not possible.

Eat 6-11 servings of whole grain foods every day.

One serving is considered one slice of 100% whole wheat bread, ½ cup cooked brown rice, ½ cup whole wheat pasta, or ½ cup of whole grain cereal. Whole grains also contain B vitamins essential to building the immune system and aids the healing process.

Eat a variety of protein containing foods at meals and snacks.

Protein contains essential amino acids that are vital to the healing process. The body’s protein status prior to surgery also influences the recovery time. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, tofu, and dairy products.

Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly.

Choose healthier fats such as canola and olive oil. Avoid fried foods. Excess fat and sugar contain empty calories that do not provide the body with any nutrients. Too many empty calories and not enough nutritious food may have an effect on the immune system.

Drink plenty of water in the 3 weeks prior to surgery.

Staying well hydrated will help in the recovery process. It will also help during the period of time right before surgery that water is not allowed. A general goal for daily water consumption is eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day.

Establish consistent eating habits.

Eat a good breakfast everyday including a good source of protein like eggs, peanut butter, or Greek style yogurt. Lunch should include a protein source, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. The evening meal should be similar to lunch. Remember to include healthy snacks like fruit, trail mix, hummus and carrot sticks or whole grain crackers with cheese or peanut butter.

Go grocery shopping the week before surgery.

If you are not able to go to the grocery store yourself, send someone with a list to shop for you. Shopping for healthy foods right before surgery will allow you to keep up your healthy eating plan after surgery during the recovery period. Focus more on shelf stable items and buy fewer perishable items. Shelf stable items such as peanut butter, canned fruit in its own juice, and low sodium canned soups are good to have available when you return home from the hospital.

Get some exercise.

Walking is not only good for the body it is also good for the brain. Exercise may help in “clearing your head” when you begin to get anxious. It will also help you to maintain lean body mass (muscle). Muscle loss may occur after surgery due to physical inactivity. It is important to try to get back to doing some exercise as soon as possible after recovering. Your surgeon can advise you as to when it is safe for you to resume or begin exercising.

Tell your doctor about any vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other over-the-counter products and medications you take.

Some of these may be harmful during surgery and it is best to stop taking them prior to surgery. Examples of herbal supplements to discontinue as soon as your surgery is scheduled are: Echinacea, Ephedra, Garlic, Ginger, Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Kava, Licorice, Saw Palmetto, St. John’s Wort, and Valerian Root.

Follow the pre-surgery instructions given by your doctor.

The pre-surgery instructions given by your doctor are meant to help minimize complications before and after surgery. Follow these instructions carefully. Most likely there will be some restrictions on food and beverage intake as the surgery date approaches.

Talk to a registered dietitian if you have lost weight or have any eating problems that are keeping you from eating healthy.

A registered dietitian will assess you and make recommendations for you to optimize your nutrition prior to surgery. Sometimes the recommendation of a liquid nutrition supplement may be beneficial.