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What you eat after surgery can influence how quickly you recover. A good diet provides the building blocks of protein your tissues require to heal. In addition, eating the right foods can alleviate constipation, a common side effect of pain medications.

By following the advice in this article, you will obtain the calories and nutrition required to keep you feeling energized, to fight off infections and to accelerate healing. Your health care team may have provided you with very specific diet instructions. Ignore any of the suggestions in this article which conflict with doctor’s orders.

Stay Hydrated

Water is the primary component of cells, tissues, and organs, and is involved in almost every body function; thus, it is critical that you stay hydrated after surgery. Tasty options include water with a squeeze of lemon or orange, coconut water, herbal teas, and smoothies with extra liquids. Soup can also help with hydration. Plan to sip at least six ounces of fluid each hour you are awake.

Focus on Real Foods

Choose foods without additives such as sugars, starches, flavorings, preservatives and unrecognizable ingredients. The best foods look very much like they did in nature - whole and minimally processed. Whole foods provide more nutrition and fiber than ultra-processed alternatives.

Find the Fiber

The foods you eat should provide at least 30 grams of fiber per day. Vegetables, fruits, and nuts are all good sources of fiber, while beans, chia seeds and ground flax seeds are fiber superstars. Bread, select ready-to-eat cereals, and some snack bars may be healthful options. Find the fiber on the nutrition fact panel and choose a product that provides one to two grams of fiber for every 10 grams of carbohydrate. Prunes contain a special type of fiber and eating three to five prunes daily may relieve and prevent constipation.

Avoid Constipating Foods

While fiber can help prevent constipation, certain foods can actually contribute to it. Foods which may cause constipation include jerky, raisins, processed foods, milk, cheese, red meat, and highly sweetened foods.

Include Healthy Protein at Every Meal

Each meal should provide at least 20 grams of protein. A three-ounce portion of cooked lean poultry, pork, fish, seafood or shellfish will provide this amount. Canned salmon and tuna are convenient and easy to chew. Two whole eggs provide 14 grams of protein along with vitamins A, B-complex, E and K. Eggs are also a good source of iron and choline. Greek yogurt is protein-rich and provides a good dose of probiotics. Cooked lentils and edamame both provide about 20 grams of protein per cup. Tofu and tempeh are outstanding plant-based protein options. Protein drinks are not considered real foods; thus, they are not recommended.

Strive for Five

Whether you eat them raw or cooked, vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that will speed the healing process. Leafy greens, members of the cabbage family (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts), carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cooked mushrooms, onions, and fresh red bell peppers are notable vegetables to include in your diet. Pureed vegetable soups or roasted vegetables are easy to chew and swallow.

Choose Fruit Instead of Juice

Focus on eating two cups of fruit a day. Canned fruit may be easier to chew than fresh or frozen, but it is important to select versions with little if any added sugar. All berries are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds, so they are excellent choices. Unsweetened applesauce is a good option for people who have difficulty chewing.

Go for Healthy Fats

Avocado, nuts, and seeds are nutrient and calorie dense options. Spread avocado on whole wheat toast, or use it as a dip for roasted vegetables. Nuts and seeds can be included in smoothies for added calories and fiber. Peanut or almond butter is delicious on toasted whole wheat bread.

Feed the Flora

Eighty percent of the organisms that inhabit your gut are health-promoting probiotics. Your body needs them to fight off infections and to digest food. Healthy sources of probiotics include unflavored and unsweetened yogurt or kefir, naturally fermented sauerkraut and kimchi, and commercially prepared kombucha.

Continue Eating Nutritious Foods

Your appetite may be diminished immediately after surgery, but it is important to persevere and continue to eat nutritious foods. Some foods will taste better than others, so allow yourself to eat what appeals to you. Failing to eat enough after surgery can slow healing and delay the closure of your incision. Also, keep in mind that meals are much more enjoyable when shared with friends or family members. Enlist the help of others to keep you engaged and happy during recovery.

Nancy Teeter, a SaddleBrooke resident, is an Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist and a health coach. Her mission is to help people learn how to eat healthfully and avoid age-related disease.