Surgery Recovery Print What to Eat After Surgery and What to Avoid By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN Updated July 12, 2019 Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician More in Surgery Recovery Common Procedures Preparation Plastic Surgery Organ Transplants If you have had surgery, the food you eat can make a great impact on your recovery and on how quickly your wound heals. Eating the right foods can prevent complications, such as constipation and high blood glucose, and provide the necessary building blocks of protein your skin needs to heal quickly. 1 Reassess Your Typical Diet Sarah Remington/Stocksy United One of the best things you can do to improve your nutritional status when you are recovering from surgery is to focus on whole foods. That means to choose foods that are “whole” or unprocessed. For example, an orange would be a whole food. Orange juice, though, would be a more processed version of that food. A baked potato is a whole food, while a french fry is more processed and less healthy, having been fried. The list goes on and on—chicken breast is better than chicken nuggets, onions are better than onion rings. So, aim to obtain most of your nutrition from these whole foods, which is actually a healthy way to eat every day, not just the weeks following surgery. Processed foods tend to have higher amounts of fat, sugar, salt, and chemical additives, but far less fiber and vitamins than their whole food counterparts. One easy way to stick to more nutritious, less-processed foods is to focus on the outside aisles of the grocery store. Most grocery stores are set up with unprocessed foods on the outermost areas of the store in the produce, butcher/fish, dairy, and bread areas. By doing most of your shopping in those areas, you will naturally choose healthier foods that are high in fiber—a vital nutrient to include in your diet after surgery. 2 Why Plenty of Fiber Is a Must anakopa/istock It is important to include fiber in your diet as you are recovering from surgery. Not only are high-fiber foods healthier than their low-fiber counterparts, but fiber also plays a major role in preventing constipation, a common complication after surgery. Constipation is more than just annoying after surgery, it can actually increase pain and the chances of returning to the hospital during the recovery period. Rather than adding a fiber supplement to your day, such as psyllium husks, consider adding high fiber foods to your diet and obtaining fiber in a more natural way. Supplementing is not a bad idea, but fiber from food tends to work better to prevent constipation when taken with ample water. High Fiber Foods Whole grain bread: Look for breads that use whole grains and are darker in color. White bread is typically too refined to be a good source of fiber.Whole grains: This would include corn, oatmeal, and other grains. Fruits: Fresh fruit is an excellent source of vitamins and fiber.Vegetables: Vegetables are an excellent source of fiber and can be purchased fresh or frozen.Cereal: Not all cereal has a high-fiber content. Check the label to avoid sugary or low-fiber cereal. Look for cereal with fiber in the name, or stick with old-fashioned breakfast foods, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat. 3 Avoid Foods That Cause Constipation simonkr/istock Constipation is common after surgery because prescription pain medications—opioids, in particular—are often used in the days following a surgical procedure and have a known side effect of decreasing the movement of the intestines. While some foods can help prevent or treat constipation, there are other foods that can make constipation more likely. Constipation can increase your pain level and can place additional stress on your incision, so it is important to avoid whenever possible. Foods Likely to Cause Constipation Dried or dehydrated foods: These include dried fruits (prunes are an exception, they can help to ease constipation), beef jerky, and some types of potato chips.Processed FoodsCheeseMilk and Dairy ProductsRed MeatSweets: including pastries, candies, cakes, and other sugary foods. Preventing and Treating Constipation 4 Focus on Lean Protein vkuslandia/istock Lean protein can be found in lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and pork. Seafood, including fish, is also an excellent source of lean protein. Red meat is not recommended because of the high level of saturated fat and because it can trigger constipation. If you don’t eat meat or don’t enjoy meat, remember that protein comes from many sources other than meat. Consider nuts, tofu, beans and “vegetarian” foods, such as tempeh and texturized vegetable protein (TVP) to supplement your protein needs. Dairy products are also a source of protein, but they can cause constipation, so they should be used in moderation. If you are having difficulty eating, consider supplementing your diet with protein powder, which can be added to drinks, such as smoothies. 5 Whole Grains Instead of Refined Grains wmaster890/istock Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Be sure to choose whole grain breads and cereals whenever possible, rather than the refined "white" versions. Rice is a great way to add whole grains to your diet, but many types of rice are so processed that the nutritional value is minimal. For both nutrients and fiber content, choose brown rice or other varieties that are not processed, and avoid white rice. Breakfast is an ideal time to add whole grains and fiber to your diet. Skip the bacon and eggs and choose oatmeal or another whole grain cereal, whole wheat bread, and fresh fruit for your morning meal. If you have had surgery on your intestines, make sure you are permitted to eat whole grains during your recovery before adding them to your diet. Pay particular attention to your discharge instructions regarding what is appropriate to eat during your recovery. The Tasty Whole Grains You Might Not Have Heard Of 6 Fresh Fruits and Vegetables leonori/istock Fresh fruit and vegetables contain both nutrients and fiber, which are essential to healing during your recovery from surgery. While fresh is best, frozen or canned items are also good. Try to emphasize items that are not processed, such as fresh broccoli, and avoid processed foods, such as canned broccoli soup. One side effect of eating more fruits and vegetables than usual is gas. While this can be an annoying or embarrassing problem, it should pass within a day or two. If the gas is so severe that you feel stomach pressure or abdominal cramping, you can decrease your intake of fresh produce or use a gas reliever, such as Beano to prevent gas or Gas-X (simethicone) to relieve gas that is present. 7 Dairy Products Stitchik/istock Dairy products are an excellent source of protein, which is essential to healing after surgery. Many people, though, find that consuming dairy products can lead to constipation after surgery. There is also evidence that dairy products can increase secretions in the lungs, so if you have a chronic cough, it may be worthwhile to avoid dairy products in the short term. If you can eat dairy products without becoming constipated, focus on low-fat items, such as skim milk, cottage cheese, and yogurt. Cheese, low-fat or not, should be eaten in moderation until you can determine if eating it will cause you to become constipated. 8 Trouble Eating Enough After Surgery? Anna_Shepulova/istock Sometimes it is difficult to eat after surgery because of a lack of appetite. This typically passes a few days after surgery, but it is important to continue eating nutritious foods during this part of your recovery. Constipation can cause a lack of appetite. If this is the case, speak to your surgeon about ways to relieve constipation before taking over-the-counter remedies. While most people in America could stand to lose a few pounds, skipping meals after surgery is not the way to do it. Failing to eat enough after surgery can slow healing and delay the closure of your incision. Your body needs protein and other nutrients to build healthy new tissue and heal tissue injured by surgery. If you are not constipated and are still having difficulty with your appetite, consider calorie-dense foods, such as a smoothie, which can contain dairy, fruit and even protein powder as necessary. If you are unable to consume enough calories after your surgery, try to eat calorie-dense foods whenever possible. That means eating foods that contain more calories per bite than others. For example, a cup of green salad would be a food low in calories per cup, while avocado would be very high in calories per cup. If consuming enough calories is an issue, you may want to eliminate low-calorie and calorie-free items from your diet until you are able to eat adequately. For example, use regular salad dressing, replace diet soda with juice or full-calorie soda and (in general) avoid foods that say "lite," "sugar-free," "calorie-free," "diet," "low-fat," or "low-calorie" on the label. 9 Easy Ways to Add Calories to Your Diet Daisy-Daisy/istock If you are having difficulty getting enough calories in your diet after surgery, your recovery could be adversely affected. These tips can help you add calories to your diet without having to eat noticeably more; however, these changes are not necessarily heart-healthy and are not going to aid weight loss. This way of eating is reserved for people who are unable to consume enough calories, as this is not an ideal nutritional plan for the long term. Some individuals truly struggle to consume enough food in the early part of the recovery phase, and these tips are intended for those people. When you are able to return to a healthier diet, eliminating saturated fats and sugar while emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, it is important to do so. 12 Ways to Sneak Calories Into Your Diet Use heavy cream instead of non-fat dairy creamer.Use real sugar, not a sugar substitute.Use real butter or margarine, not low-calorie butter spreads or sprays.Cook with oil, not with cooking spray.Choose full calorie options if possible when eating prepared foods, such as frozen meals. For example, don't select Weight Watchers frozen meals, as they are calorie controlled, choose a full calorie version.Suck on mints or candy.Eat the highest calorie items on your plate first.Keep a full-calorie beverage (juice, lemonade, soda) nearby, and drink from it whenever possible.Add a dietary supplement, such as Ensure or protein bars, to your diet.Snack between meals.Use high-calorie snacks, such as nuts and seeds.Think of eating as your job, and do it frequently. Consider commercial breaks on television to be a reminder to have a nibble.Choose vegetables with more calories, such as avocados and potatoes rather than lettuce.Add a bedtime snack to your schedule. A Word From Verywell What you eat in the days and weeks following surgery can help determine how quickly you heal and how well you feel while recovering. Take the time to eat well, choosing foods you know to be healthful and nutritious, and be sure to eat enough calories to sustain your body through the healing process. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Sign up for our Health Tip of the Day newsletter, and receive daily tips that will help you live your healthiest life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, et al. 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Additional Reading Constipation Cure-How to Get Rid of Constipation. Dr. John Anne. Nelson AD, Camilleri M. Opioid-induced constipation: advances and clinical guidance. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2016.