Colectomy Diet Recommendations

peanut butter and toast
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If you've had any type of colectomy surgery, 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. What are some foods that may help your symptoms, and, in contrast, what kinds of foods should you avoid? Let's help you navigate your way through eating after your colectomy.

What Happens the First Days After Surgery

For the first 2 to 3 days after a colectomy, you'll probably receive only IV fluids to give your colon time to heal. After that, you'll be transitioned to a clear liquid diet.

As the name implies, this means only liquids that you can see through, such as broth, fruit juices without pulp (for example, 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 oatmeal.

Food Choices to Ease Post-Colectomy Symptoms

Some of the common symptoms you might experience after a colectomy include diarrhea, dehydration, and gas. These symptoms can happen because your colon has not yet resumed normal functioning. One of the things the colon does is absorb liquid—if it's not doing that properly, dehydration and diarrhea may result.

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

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

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

Food Choices to Avoid Food Poisoning

Since you are still healing, it's best to avoid foods that might carry the risk of infection, such as non-pasteurized soft cheeses (choose only pasteurized cheese), undercooked meat or uncooked fish (avoid sushi for the time being), and make sure to wash any fruits or vegetables thoroughly.

Not only may you be more susceptible to an infection, but food poisoning shortly after a colectomy could be a very unpleasant experience.

Foods That Might Be Hard to Digest After 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. It's important to understand that no two people respond exactly the same way after surgery. 

A helpful tip is to add foods back into your diet gradually, so you can assess how your body deals with each food. Eating a smaller variety of foods (even though eating a wide variety is healthier over the long term) will make it easier to identify which food is responsible if something doesn't agree with you.

It's also helpful to eat smaller, more frequent meals (every 3 hours), rather than overwhelming your digestive system with a large meal.

Foods that sometimes need to be limited until your body adjusts to a colectomy include:

  • Raw vegetables (if you love your veggies, steam or cook them until you are fully healed, but avoid eating large amounts of "gassy" vegetables (even though they are healthy over the long-term) such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, radishes, and asparagus
  • Other vegetables such as celery, corn, Chinese vegetables, mushrooms, onions, and coleslaw
  • Skins and peels of fruit (fruit flesh is OK other than coarse fruits such as raw pineapple and coconut)
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and dates
  • Dairy products (even people who ordinarily tolerate dairy products may have symptoms similar to lactose intolerance for a while after their colon surgery, though an exception may be buttermilk, yogurt, or small amounts of ice cream)
  • Very 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 sweets
  • High fat and fried food such as fried chicken, sausage, and other fatty meats
  • Beer and red wine
  • Hot soup or drinks
  • Too much caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Very spicy food
  • 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 advance your diet. If you feel sick to your stomach or full, then stop eating or slow down. 

Additional Tips for Eating After Colectomy Surgery

In addition to eating certain foods, here are a couple other tips for staying well after colectomy.

Stay Well Hydrated

Be sure you also drink plenty of fluids (8 to 10 cups of water a day) to help your body digest food and eliminate waste. Some people find it helpful to place a full pitcher of water in the fridge each day, to make sure they get enough fluids. Your fluids don't all have to be water; apple juice and cranberry juice count as part of your requirements as well.

Chew Your Food Thoroughly

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 which might cause a blockage if not broken down before swallowing.

A Word From Verywell

If you are worried about eating after colectomy surgery (or have a loved one undergoing the surgery), please speak with your doctor and dietician, so you can transition well and confidently.

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 ensuring your comfort when you go home.

View Article Sources
  • University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. Ostomy Nutrition Guide.
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Total Colectomy or Proctocolectomy Discharge.