If you’ve been an active, independent adult for most of your life, suddenly finding yourself a patient can be demoralizing and even depressing. Having worked with many clients in a post-operative setting, I know that rehabilitation and recovery is different for everyone; however, good nutrition after surgery can speed wound healing, improve immunity and ensure the best outcome.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a joint replaced; a hysterectomy or a bypass operation, the body requires extra nutrients to heal, so focusing on nutrition can mean the difference between bouncing back and a lengthy recovery.
On average, a person can expect to lose 5 to 10 percent of total body weight after surgery. To infuse the body with calories and nutrition, consider protein first. Protein is needed to repair tissue, slow muscle catabolism and decrease the inflammatory phase. Post-operative protein requirements range from 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For elective surgery, the low end of the range is sufficient. For major surgery, the higher end of the spectrum is more appropriate.
Using a real life example, a 160-pound male who had open heart surgery would need 144 grams of protein per day (72 kilograms x 2 grams). Yes, there’s a little math involved, but there’s always a dietitian in the hospital who can help. Just ask to see him or her.
After surgery, drugs, fatigue and complications can make eating unappealing. The mouth and throat can be sore or dry, medicine can make food taste metallic, and even the sense of smell can be diminished. In these circumstances, it’s best to experiment to see what’s the most palatable. Also, serve small portions throughout the day. Standard portions can seem overwhelming to someone who has to muster the strength just to chew.
Other tips to make meals more palatable include marinating meat to improve flavor; adding herbs or spices (if tolerated) to bland foods; incorporating flavored protein powder into whole-food shakes; and trying hard candy, strong chewing gum or lemonade to relieve dry mouth and perk up taste buds.
Vitamin C is another nutrient critical to wound healing. It’s responsible for making connective tissue, and it acts as a powerful antioxidant. Since surgical trauma causes an increase in the body’s metabolic rate, vitamin C levels can drop. So, consuming up to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C for up to one week after surgery can help expedite tissue repair.
A combination of food, juice and supplements can be used to attain this level. Prune juice or stewed prunes are an excellent addition to the diet, since prunes are high in vitamin C and can help relieve constipation that is a common side effect of drug therapy.
Vitamins A and D are also critical after surgery. Vitamin A supports collagen strength and is necessary for bone development, and studies have shown that vitamin D has been linked to shorter recovery times. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian for specific nutrition support program that’s right for you.
Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a nutrition expert and award-winning author. Her newest book is “The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook.” Find Tina at www.TinaRuggiero.com.