By Terese Scollard, MBA, RD, LD, FAND, regional clinical nutrition manager, Providence Nutrition Services
November and December are popular months for having surgery, as health insurance deductibles are met. But before you go under the knife, take a close look at what’s on your fork and spoon. What you eat – and how much you eat – can help how your body heals.
When you eat a healthy, balanced diet with extra protein, your body builds strength for surgery and for healing wounds, bones and infections. On the other hand, when you have poor nutritional habits, you have a higher risk of developing infections and other complications, increasing the time you spend in the hospital and the amount of care you need during recovery.
Here are five tips to help you recover better – and feel better – after surgery.
1) Get plenty of fuel
Your body needs extra fuel to heal. Make sure you’re eating and drinking enough healthful foods and beverages in the weeks before your procedure. Eat two to three nutritional meals and one to three healthy snacks each day.
2) Eat foods from all the food groups
A meat-and-potatoes diet might be what you grew up on, but now is the time to broaden your nutritional choices. Try to eat foods from all the food groups on a daily basis: protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains.
3) Eat plenty of protein
Protein is especially important for helping your body heal after surgery. Eat protein at every meal, especially at breakfast and after physical therapy. Good sources of protein include fish, chicken and other meats or meat substitutes, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans, nuts and seeds.
4) If you don’t feel hungry, try to eat anyway
It can be common to lose your appetite as you age. But in the weeks before and after surgery, your body needs proper nutrition in order to heal. If you can’t stomach three large meals a day, eat smaller meals and snacks more often – and include protein.
5) Manage your weight
Even if you’re overweight, losing weight in the weeks before and after surgery can slow healing, weaken your immune system and increase your risk of malnutrition. That’s why dieting right before surgery is usually not recommended. If you don’t get enough nutrition before a procedure, it makes it harder for your body to heal. But talk with your health care provider about your particular weight situation.
People who are underweight have more trouble recovering from major illnesses and surgeries. If your weight is considered low, adding 250 to 400 extra calories and 20 to 30 extra grams of protein daily can make a difference in your recovery. Choose nutrient-rich foods, such as cheese, avocados, nuts, peanut butter, eggs and yogurt smoothies.
If you are at the right weight, try to keep it the same before and after your surgery by eating a healthy, balanced diet. If you lose weight before or after your procedure, eat more and boost your protein until your weight stabilizes.
This information is for general educational purposes only – always follow your provider’s recommendations. If you have questions, talk to your provider. You can find a Providence provider in our multistate directory.
Want more information about preparing for and recovering from surgery? Visit Providence.org/nutrition to learn more.