As a society, we love reading about new studies about what not to eat—or preventative eating. It seems like it’s almost daily that studies come out telling us which foods are healthy and which foods can mitigate health risks, but we have much less familiarity with what to eat when our bodies are going through a recovery process from either an injury or surgery. When it comes to this information, many people are surprised to learn they need to change their diet in any way. The first thing people recovering from an event like surgery need to get over is the fear of gaining weight. Just as our culture is obsessed with healthy eating studies, we also have a cultural fixation with getting thinner. However, when your body is recovering from a major event like a surgery, a person needs calories.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you consumer calories just for the sake of more calories, or empty calories. Managing a healthy diet plays a role in everything from gout to diabetes. After a surgery specifically, a person must consume a mix of nutritional calories: calories from protein, increased calcium, more vitamins and minerals, calories from carbohydrates, and importantly, calories from fats. When people make the mistake of limiting their calorie intake, tissue regrowth is slowed. Things like muscle tissue and ligaments will not heal as quickly as they should, and recovery time can be prolonged. During surgery, muscle is usually moved or cut open to get to what’s underneath, so as soon as you are sewn up, the body immediately tries to heal the damaged muscle tissue. The best way to grow muscle is with protein. After a surgery, make sure to eats foods such as poultry, fish, meats, milk, eggs, beans, and nuts. All these foods will give your body a healthy boost of protein. For foods in between meals, try peanut butter, granola, yogurt, nuts, and different cheeses. For people with intolerances to any of these foods or restrictions, nutritional supplements similar to what weightlifters use can help. Of course, always consult with your doctor first. Also, it’s worth noting that some surgeries restrict the consumption of certain grains and nuts, so again, be sure to consult your physician about any restrictions. For those who are practicing vegetarians or vegans: tofu, nut butters, and beans are the best protein options.
Beyond protein, a person also needs essential vitamins and minerals to heal. Different vitamins serve different purposes; vitamin C aids soft tissue repair, calcium encourages bone regrowth, vitamin E is an antioxidant, and vitamin D is essential to sustain bone and organ health. If you cannot get the vitamins you need in the foods you eat, vitamin supplements will work, but it is best to use natural food sources when possible. For those who don’t really eat fruit or vegetables, there is no better time to start than after surgery. Berries are full of antioxidants. Citrus fruits, kiwis, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli are all packed with Vitamin C. Milk has calcium plus vitamin D. Seeds, leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, and avocados all contain vitamin E. However, it is imperative not to consume certain vitamins before surgery. For example, do not take vitamin E supplements 7-10 days before surgery. Vitamin E helps in the production of red blood cells, which means there would be a higher possibility for excess bleeding during a surgery.
Last, but not least, is staying hydrated. While recovering, hydration is more important than ever. Consume a minimum of eight cups of water per day outside of caffeine-containing drinks or alcoholic drinks. Try to keep alcohol consumption at a minimum for the first few weeks after a surgery. If you feel like there is no way you can drink eight cups of water in a day, Gatorade and other sports drinks can be a good alternative in the first few weeks after surgery since they will keep you hydrates and replenished with electrolytes.
Regardless of what type of surgery you undergo, the foods you eat after the surgery will greatly influence your recovery. If you want to get back to your regular life as quickly as possible, it is important to take your post-surgery diet seriously. Just as we know that working out is not enough without a proper diet to maintain a healthy body, the same can be thought about surgery. Even more important than simply improving recovery time, the way you maintain your healing process will determine the general success of the surgery, whether or not there is a need for additional or repeat surgeries, and the final result for the future.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning helps seniors apply to the Arizona Long Term Care System as well as find and organize long term care.