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Nutrition and healing: what you need to know

If you have recently had surgery, one of the best things you can do for your recovery is to pay attention to the things you eat. Many patients are tempted to increase their consumption of junk food and comfort food shortly after surgery, since these foods are easy to prepare. However, this can be very counterproductive in the context of recovery. Patients tend to recover significantly faster and more fully from surgical procedures if they have a healthy and balanced diet after surgery.

How much should I eat?

Most surgical procedures leave the patient with limited mobility during their recovery period. In a context of relative inactivity, many people assume that they should reduce their intake of food and calories during the recovery period. However, this can be a serious mistake. Your body needs more energy than normal because of the demands of the healing process. This doesn’t mean you should eat processed foods or foods that have high levels of sugar. Instead, you should aim to eat food representing a balanced diet, as will be outlined below.

People have a wide range of metabolic rates and calorific needs. However, everyone needs to eat more than they normally would while recovering from surgery. As a general guide, the average person recovering from surgery needs about 15-20 calories per day for each pound that they weigh. This means that a woman with an average weight needs approximately 2500 calories per day while recovering, and a man with an average weight needs approximately 3400 calories per day.

Which foods should I eat?

You need more protein than you normally would during recovery. Protein helps the body to repair damage. Red meat has some harmful properties, so try to obtain protein by increasing your intake of eggs, nuts, fish, beans or white meat.

Carbohydrates are an important component of any balanced diet, but they should not be overemphasized in recovery. Try eating cereal, rice, pasta or quinoa, and stay away from any junk food.

It is very important to have a high intake of vegetables during recovery. Most patients eat less than they should. Leafy greens such as kale, collard greens or broccoli provide calcium and vitamin K. Carrots, beets or radishes can provide vitamin A, which is important for tissue regrowth. Lastly, spinach, lettuce and cabbage contain vitamin B9, which is also very helpful in recovery.

You should also emphasize fruits in your diet during recovery. Vitamin C helps create connective tissue, which is indispensable for healing. Almost any fruit contains high levels of vitamin C, but citrus fruits have the highest concentrations.

How to eat during recovery

Patients recovering from surgery often have problems eating.

One of the paradoxes of recovery is that although patients need more calories than normal, many experience a decrease in their appetite for a few days after surgery, particularly where solid food is concerned. During this time, it is important to make it as easy as possible for yourself to eat. For example, this could mean having nutrient rich drinks or shakes in the house. Some widely available options include Soylent, Ensure and Boost. If you own a blender, you might enjoy fruit smoothies during the initial recovery period.

Even after the initial recovery period has ended, many patients experience some decrease in appetite that can take time to return to normal. Since patients have relatively low levels of energy during the recovery period, this means they are often inclined to choose junk food.

To make it easier to eat healthily during recovery, try stocking healthy foods that require little preparation. This might include fruits, yogurt, salads, oatmeal and some forms of canned foods. You could also try preparing food in advance and storing it in your fridge or freezer so it can be reheated on demand.

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