What to Eat After Surgery and What to Avoid

If you’ve had surgery, the foods you eat in the days, weeks, and months after your procedure can affect your healing and recovery.

Eating the right foods can help prevent complications after surgery, such as constipation, high blood sugar (glucose), and infections.

This article explains which foods to eat and which ones to avoid after surgery. It also offers tips for eating when you don’t have an appetite.

Talk to Your Provider

The type of surgery you had and any health conditions you have will determine the diet you’ll need to follow while you’re recovering. For example:

While these general tips in this article can be helpful, they won’t apply to everyone. Follow the instructions given to you by your healthcare team before you leave the hospital.

Improve Your Usual Diet

carrot and beet salad

Sarah Remington / Stocksy United

When you’re stocking up before your surgery or getting back to shopping afterward, take a look at your regular diet and see if there are areas that you could improve.

For example, an easy way to find more nutritious foods is to focus on what you’ll find in the outside aisles of the grocery store. Most whole foods are in the produce and meat sections.

Whole Foods
  • Orange

  • Baked potato

  • Chicken breast

  • Onions

Processed Foods
  • Orange juice

  • French fries

  • Chicken nuggets

  • Onion rings

Make it a goal to get most of your nutrition from whole foods rather than foods that have been heavily processed.

Processed foods tend to have sugar, salt, and additives, but less fiber and vitamins than their whole-food counterparts.

Processed foods may also contribute to inflammation, which could slow your healing.

Eating whole foods supports your health every day. That said, your surgery recovery could be an opportunity to make lasting changes to your eating habits.

Prevent Constipation With Fiber

Kale salad in a bowl topped with roasted sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and avocado

anakopa / istock

Constipation is common after surgery on the digestive tract, but it can happen after any procedure.

One reason is that prescription pain medications you may take after surgery—especially opioids—can lead to decreased bowel movements.

Being constipated can also reduce your appetite, increase your pain level, and put stress on your incisions. These factors can get in the way of your healing.

Preventing Constipation

Some foods can help prevent or treat constipation, while other foods can make it more likely to happen. Try to avoid constipation-inducing foods until you’ve gone back to having regular, soft, bowel movements after your surgery.

Constipating Foods

These foods may contribute to constipation for some people:

  • Red meat
  • Cheese
  • Processed foods
  • Sugary snacks and desserts

Adding Fiber

One key way to prevent constipation is to get enough fiber. Consider adding high-fiber foods to your diet while you’re healing.

Taking a fiber supplement (like psyllium husks) is another way you can boost your fiber intake, but you won’t get the same nutritional benefits that come with eating fiber-rich foods.

High-Fiber Foods

  • Whole grain bread: Bread that’s whole grain is naturally darker in color than refined options. Skip white bread, which is highly refined and adds little, if any, fiber.
  • Whole grains: Corn, oats, and other grains are fiber sources you can enjoy at different meals.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and key vitamins and minerals that support healing.
  • Legumes: Different varieties of beans, nuts, and other legumes are packed with fiber and other important nutrients.
  • Cereal: Some types of cold and hot cereal (like oatmeal) have a good amount of fiber in them, but read the label closely to make sure you avoid sugary or low-fiber options.

Staying Hydrated

It’s also important to get enough fluid while you’re healing. Dehydration can worsen constipation and also make fiber less helpful.

In addition to nourishing your body with food, make sure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Pick Lean Protein

sliced chicken breasts on a slate cutting board with a bowl of whole grain mustard

vkuslandia / istock

Protein is key for your recovery. Your body needs protein to heal from the inside out as it builds healthy new tissue.

That said, some sources of protein are high in fat. While fat is a key component of your diet, your body might have a hard time handling it after surgery.

For example, red meat is a protein source but it has a lot of saturated fat, which can be constipating.

Fat also takes a lot of work to digest. You might find it upsets your stomach early in your recovery.

Lean proteins are low in fat and are a good choice while you’re healing. Here are a few options:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Seafood
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Vegetarian protein sources (tempeh, texturized vegetable protein)
  • Protein powder (to add to drinks, smoothies)

Opt for Whole Grains

bowl of oatmeal topped with bananas, blueberries, chia seeds, and sliced almonds

wmaster 890 / istock

Whole grains are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

For example, rice is a great way to add whole grains to your diet. However, many types of rice are very processed and don’t offer much nutrition.

If you’re picking rice for a meal, choosing brown rice will pack more nutrition than white rice.

Breakfast is a great time to focus on whole grains and fiber. For example, you can make a meal of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat toast, and fresh fruit.

Go for Fresh Fruits and Veggies

Fresh fruit including strawberries, lemonds, blackberries, apples, and grapefruit

leonori / istock

Whether you go for fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables, including plenty of produce in your diet offers a lot of variety and nutrition.

Fresh fruits and vegetables will help your body heal and keep your immune system in fighting shape.

What If Produce Gives Me Gas?

Upping your intake of fruits and vegetables can have some digestive side effects like gas. Excess gas usually goes away once your body adjusts to your dietary changes, but it can be especially uncomfortable while you’re healing from surgery.

There are over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that can help. Try taking Beano before you eat to prevent gas or Gas-X (simethicone) to get relief after.

Choose Low-Fat Dairy Products

Bowl of cottage cheese with a side of strawberries

Stitchik / istock

Dairy products are an excellent source of protein and other key nutrients, but you might find that your digestion is a little too sensitive for them right after surgery.

Some people notice more secretions in their lungs when they eat dairy. If you have a chronic cough, you might want to limit dairy while you’re healing—especially if you have incisions in your abdomen that will get strained by coughing.

Take it slow and try low-fat dairy options like:

  • Skim milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt

What to Do If You’re Not Hungry

Blueberry smoothie topped with chia seeds

Anna_Shepulova / istock

After you have surgery, you might not feel like eating much. If you’re having nausea or other symptoms, you may not want to eat at all.

Your appetite should return within a few days of surgery, but it’s important that you continue to try to get nutrition as best you can in the meantime.

Make the most of your meals by eating calorie-dense foods. You might find it easier to drink rather than eat—especially if your neck or throat is sore after surgery.

Here are a few tips for nourishing your body when you’re not feeling hungry:

  • Smoothies: Add dairy, fruit, and protein powder
  • Higher-fat options: Instead of a low-calorie cup of green salad, go for a higher-calorie cup of avocado
  • Eliminate low-calorie foods: For example, use regular salad dressing instead of “lite,” replace diet soda with juice or full-calorie soda, and avoid foods that say “lite,” “sugar-free,” “calorie-free,” “diet,” “low-fat,” or “low-calorie” on the label.

Even if you have weight-loss goals, don’t skip meals after you have surgery. Not eating and drinking enough can slow your healing.

Easy Ways to Add Calories to Your Diet

Woman holding almonds

Daisy-Daisy / istock

If you are having a hard time getting enough calories in your diet after surgery, you may need to focus on choosing higher-calorie foods for a while.

Here are a few ways to boost your calorie intake:

  • If you get full after a few bites, focus on eating the highest-calorie items on your plate first
  • Choose full-calorie options when eating prepared foods, such as frozen meals
  • Keep a full-calorie beverage (juice, lemonade, soda) nearby, and drink from it frequently
  • Add in a dietary supplement, such as Ensure or protein bars
  • Snack between meals
  • Eat high-calorie snacks like nuts and seeds.
  • Choose vegetables with more calories (avocados, potatoes) over lower-calorie choices (lettuce, celery)
  • Add a bedtime snack to your routine

While you’re healing from surgery, you might have to think of resting as your “job” for the time being. Add “eating” to your to-do list and stick with it.

If it helps, you can use cues throughout your day—like a commercial break when you’re watching your favorite TV show—to remind you to eat.

Summary

Eating plenty of nourishing foods after surgery helps your body recover, supports wound healing, and prevents constipation.

That said, you should check with your provider to find out if there are specific rules about what you can and cannot eat while you’re getting better.

In general, focusing on whole foods and avoiding foods that don’t offer much nutrition are dietary choices that will support your health all the time, not just when you’re healing from surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can you eat if you‘re feeling nauseous after surgery?

    To keep up your strength, try eating small amounts of bland foods throughout the day.

    For example, flat ginger ale, chicken broth, crackers, plain toast, and bananas are easy to digest. Hard ginger candies or peppermint may also soothe your stomach.

  • What should you eat after oral surgery?

    Your healthcare provider or dentist will tell you what you can eat after oral surgery. They will probably tell you to drink liquids and eat soft foods for the first few days.

    For example, you may have smoothies, milkshakes, applesauce, pudding, ice cream, soup, and protein shakes.

  • What should you eat after gallbladder surgery?

    You may notice changes in your digestion after you have your gallbladder removed. For example, some people find that fatty foods become harder to digest.

    You may want to avoid high-fat or fried foods for several weeks after surgery to prevent symptoms. Try to keep calories from fat to about 30% or less of your daily calorie intake.

8 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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  3. National Institute on Aging. Concerned about constipation?.

  4. Trads M, Deutch SR, Pedersen PU. Supporting patients in reducing postoperative constipation: fundamental nursing care - a quasi-experimental study. Scand J Caring Sci. 2018;32(2):824-832. doi:10.1111/scs.12513

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  8. Cleveland Clinic. What to eat after you have your gallbladder removed.

By Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FN
Jennifer Whitlock, RN, MSN, FNP-C, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. She has experience in primary care and hospital medicine.