When buying foods in preparation for surgery, consider how you might be feeling post-operatively. You may be nauseous, have a poor appetite (anorexia), be fatigued, or possibly have diarrhea or constipation. You likely won’t want to cook and may tolerate only small portions at a time. Choose foods that are pre-cut that you can store in individual portions. Fat may not be well tolerated if you are nauseous or have anorexia. Certain strong smells such as curry or garlic may also set off nausea. Fiber containing foods are recommended as constipation is common due to pain meds and decreased activity. Choose foods that are dense in nutrients (i.e. high in vitamins and minerals); this is not the time to indulge in potato chips and candy. If you can, prep meals ahead of time and freeze in individual portions that you can easily thaw and re-heat.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Nuts & Legumes
- Choose leaner cuts of meat such as sirloin or lean ground meat (beef, bison, turkey or chicken).
- Choose pre-cut pieces of chicken or turkey such as chicken breasts or thighs as these will be easier to prepare and cook.
- Buy shrimp and fish that have been individually frozen so that you can thaw only what you will use in one meal.
- Buy canned legumes and beans as these are easier to prepare than dried legumes and beans. If buying dried legumes, prep them ahead of time by soaking them in water overnight, discarding the water, cooking in fresh water, then freezing into individual portions.
- Nut butters (peanut, almond, sunflower) are a good source of protein and require no prep.
- Eggs, especially egg whites, are a good, versatile source of protein that will likely be well tolerated. They can be safely stored in the fridge for up to one month.
- Tofu, if left unopened, can be safely stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. It can be added to soups, stews, or a hot bowl of ramen to increase protein.
- Nuts are a good source of protein and fiber and can be a good quick snack. Keep a supply in your pantry for those days when you are too tired to prepare meals or snacks.
- Canned fish such as tuna or salmon can also be a great snack or meal and require little prep. Tuna and salmon are now available in smaller portions packed in foil envelopes for those who cannot consume an entire can of fish.
- 10.Cold cuts such as roast turkey, chicken or beef can be stored in the fridge or freezer. These are great sources of protein and are generally well tolerated.
- 11.Individual portions of hummus provide some protein and can be eaten as a light snack.
Bread, Pasta, Rice, Cereal, and Grains
- Choose whole grain bread to increase fiber intake. They also tend to be higher in protein than white bread. Sliced bread can be frozen in an airtight bag for later use.
- Choose whole grain pasta or protein enriched pasta.
- Choose quinoa instead of risotto.
- Choose whole grain cereals that are higher in protein such as millet or oatmeal.
- To increase fiber content, keep some oat bran or wheat germ available. These can be added to hot cereal, stews, ground meat, soups, milkshakes, smoothies and casseroles.
- Choose brown or wild rice instead of white rice as they tend to be higher in protein and fiber.
- You can bake high fiber muffins ahead of time and store in the freezer. These will provide a quick and easy snack post-op.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Fresh fruits and vegetables are preferable to canned or frozen, but if spoilage is an issue, then frozen is a better choice than canned as they will retain more nutrients and tend to be lower in salt and sugar.
- Dried fruits and vegetables may be a good option as they will be more concentrated in nutrients, and so you don’t have to eat as many to reap their benefit. There are a multitude of options including raisins, mango, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, snap peas, peas, green beans and kale. And no, potato chips do not count as a dried vegetable!
Milk and Milk Products
- Skim, 1% or 2% milk may be better tolerated than whole milk if nausea is an issue.
- Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein.
- String cheese makes a great nutritious snack.
- Ice cream may be tolerated, especially in a milkshake.
- Hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Swiss, are higher in nutrition than soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert. They may be added to soups, casseroles and sandwiches to increase calories and protein. Lower fat versions may be better tolerated than regular.
- Yogurt drinks contain some protein, but tend to be fairly high in sugar, and so for those with gastric bypass, they may exacerbate diarrhea.
- For vegans, choose a plant based milk such as Silk or an oatmilk.
Fats and Oils
- Tolerance of these will vary. If you are experiencing nausea, be careful when using fats and oils. Also, fat can cause you to feel full faster, and therefore eat less, which is not recommended for a post-op diet as you will need your nutrients to heal.
- Choose an oil high in monounsaturated fats such as olive, avocado, canola, rapeseed, or sunflower. Nut oils such as almond are also good choices but can be more expensive.
- Cream cheese and mayonnaise can also be used to increase calories and improve flavor, but again, use sparingly if experiencing nausea or diarrhea.
- Whether you choose butter or margarine is a personal preference. Butter is high in saturated fat and cholesterol and margarine is high in hydrogenated fat, both of which are not recommended for those with cardiovascular disease or hyperlipidemia. Use either one sparingly for flavor or to increase calories.
- It is recommended that you purchase a high protein nutrition supplement as there will be times when you will be unable to consume sufficient amounts of food to meet your needs. A good supplement is Premier Protein, which you can get at your local grocery store, pharmacy or Costco. It provides 30 grams of protein per serving. As it contains whey, it is not recommended for vegans. Naturade Veganslim High Protein Shake is an appropriate choice for vegans. It provides 25 grams of protein per serving.
- Protein bars are also a good thing to stock in your pantry as they provide a source of protein and calories and are generally well tolerated.
Try to prepare as much as you can before your surgery so that you can concentrate on healing afterwards. Freeze individual portions that can be reheated for easy and nutritious meals and snacks. Purchase non-perishable foods and supplements ahead of time. Buy perishables just prior to your surgery and store appropriately. Enlist a family member or friend to help with post-operative meal prep and grocery shopping. You can also order online for groceries, but keep in mind that you may need help storing the food, especially if your mobility is limited.
Remember, your nutrition is extremely important after surgery. A good diet will help you to heal faster and help with wound healing.
If you have any questions regarding your diet pre- or post-operatively, please contact Dr. Katzen or Deborah Wong, his registered dietitian.