What to Eat After Colectomy Surgery

Ensuring Good Nutrition Without Complications

If you've had any type of colectomy surgery (in which part or all of the large intestine is removed), chances are you've been told you need to follow a colectomy diet. As your colon heals from surgery, there are foods that are easier and harder to digest.

Some foods may help ease your symptoms, while others may make them worse. Knowing the difference between the two can help you feel better and return to a more normal way of eating more quickly.

Keep reading to learn more about the foods you should eat and the foods you should avoid after colectomy surgery.

yogurt and fruit
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Diet Immediately After Surgery

For the first two to three days after a colectomy, you'll probably receive only intravenous (IV) fluids given through a tube inserted in a vein to give your colon time to heal. After that, you'll switch to a clear liquid diet. This means you will only drink liquids that you can see through, such as broth, fruit juices without pulp (like apple juice), sodas, and gelatin.

Once you're ready to start eating solid food again, the first foods you eat will be easy-to-digest foods, such as toast and cream of wheat.

Foods to Eat After a Colectomy

Some of the common symptoms you might experience after a colectomy include diarrhea and dehydration. These symptoms can happen because your colon hasn't yet returned to working normally. One of the things the colon does is absorb liquid. If it's not doing that properly, diarrhea and dehydration can occur.

Foods that are easy to digest and can help to minimize diarrhea include:

  • Applesauce
  • Bananas, pears, peaches, and melons
  • Boiled white rice
  • Cooked beets
  • Cream of rice or cream of wheat
  • Low-sugar cereals (avoid high-fiber cereals such as wheat bran)
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Potatoes
  • Pretzels
  • Spinach
  • White bread or toast
  • Yogurt
  • Tapioca and angel food cake

Other soft, low-residue foods include eggs, cooked fish or tender meat, mild cheese, soft-cooked fruits or vegetables, pudding, sherbet, and ice cream.

Foods to Avoid Following a Colectomy

Since you are still healing, it's best to stay away from foods that might carry the risk of food poisoning. These include:

  • Non-pasteurized soft cheeses (choose only pasteurized cheese)
  • Undercooked meat
  • Uncooked fish (avoid sushi for the time being)
  • Fruits or vegetables that you haven't thoroughly washed

Having surgery may make you more likely to get an infection. And food poisoning shortly after a colectomy could land you back in the hospital.

If you have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea after getting home from a colectomy, call your healthcare provider right away. Violent vomiting, in particular, can lead to an incisional hernia, in which tissues from the abdomen push up through the muscles under the incision. It's a common complication of colectomy surgery.

Foods to Limit After a Colectomy

You will be able to go back to your normal diet after surgery, but you may find that some foods you used to eat are difficult to digest. It is best to avoid these foods for now.

Over time, your body will adjust, and you should be able to eat what you want. No two people respond the same way after a colectomy. So just take your time to find out which foods work for you and which don't. In addition, adding back foods slowly makes it easier to figure which food is responsible if something upsets your stomach.

If you're unsure about a certain food, start by eating smaller quantities. Add a little bigger portion with each meal.

It's usually better to eat smaller meals every three hours or so rather than overloading your digestive tract with one large meal. Snacking also keeps your digestion moving and helps minimize constipation or diarrhea.

The foods you may need to limit until your body adjusts after a colectomy include:

  • Raw vegetables, particularly "gassy" vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, and asparagus
  • Other less-digestible vegetables such as celery, corn, mushrooms, and onion
  • Skins and peels of fruit, particularly acidic fruits
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates
  • Dairy products
  • High-fiber food such as wheat bran cereals and bread
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds (especially if you have diverticulosis)
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice and wild rice
  • Cakes, pies, cookies, and other baked sweets
  • High-fat and fried foods
  • Beer, red wine, and hard liquor
  • Hot soup or drinks
  • Caffeine, including coffee and chocolate
  • Very spicy foods
  • Licorice
  • Prune juice

It can take time for your body to readjust to high-fiber foods. Try adding back one high-fiber food at a time so you don't overwhelm your system, which can lead to constipation. Remain patient and listen to your body as you slowly add more foods to your diet. If you feel sick to your stomach or full, then stop eating or slow down.

Other Eating Tips After a Colectomy

In addition to eating the right foods, be sure to drink plenty of water (8 to 10 cups per day). This will help your body digest food and remove waste.

To make sure they get enough fluid, some people find it useful to place a full pitcher of water in the fridge each morning. Then they make sure to finish it over the course of the day.

Your fluids don't all have to be water. Apple juice and cranberry juice count as part of your requirements too.

Chewing your food very well is important after a colectomy, and most of us do not chew our food enough. Try to chew your food until it has a liquidy texture before swallowing. This is especially important with meats, or larger foods that might cause a blockage if not broken down before swallowing.

No matter what your condition, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If needed, work with a dietitian to design a plan with the right amount of carbs, fats, and proteins for your age, weight, and level of physical activity.

Summary

After colectomy surgery, it's important to follow the diet your healthcare provider gives you. Immediately after your surgery, you will receive only IV fluids to give your colon time to heal. Later on, you will switch to a clear liquid diet.

Finally, you will begin eating solid foods that are easy to digest, like toast and cream of wheat. Following your healthcare provider's directions will help prevent diarrhea and dehydration. Soon, you'll be able to go back to a normal diet.

A Word From Verywell

If you are worried about eating after colectomy surgery, please speak with your healthcare provider and dietitian. They can help you figure out what you or your loved one should be eating.

Don't be afraid to ask very specific questions about what you can or can't eat. Making sure that all of your questions are answered before you leave the hospital can go a long way towards making you comfortable and confident when you go home.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Kaiser Permanente Thrive. Patient handbook for colectomy.

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