Post-Surgery Diet Tips
Food and Diet
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- How do I select a diet that is right for me?
Start with the Food Guide Pyramid and American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Guidelines. If you are having problems with particular foods, many others in the same food group can be substituted. Special problems might require consultation with a registered dietitian or nutritionist.
- How many servings of fruit and vegetables should I eat every day?
Although everyone should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, it may be difficult. Nevertheless, by incorporating balanced meals with nutritional snacks, and drinking juices, eating up to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day is quite possible, and may be beneficial.
- Can I get the same nutritional value from frozen and canned fruits and vegetables?
Yes. In fact, frozen foods are often more nutritious than fresh foods because they are usually picked ripe and quickly frozen. Canning can reduce some of the nutrients, but the nutritional value of canned fruits and vegetables is often equivalent to those that are fresh.
- Should I be juicing my fruits and vegetables?
Juicing is not necessary, but can add variety to the diet and is a good way to consume fruits and vegetables, especially if there are difficulties with chewing or swallowing. Juicing also improves the absorption of some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables. If you buy commercially juiced products, avoid those that have not been pasteurized.
- How much water should I drink?
Try to dink at least eight cups of water each day. Many symptoms of fatigue, lightheadedness, and nausea can be due to dehydration.
- Should I limit my caffeine intake?
Although many heart problems can be better controlled without caffeine, and sleep disturbances are less common, caffeine will have no adverse affects on your surgery.
- Should I eat high-fiber foods?
Yes, Fiber from whole grains and high-fiber cereals can improve bowel function and help to decrease heart disease risk. Other high-fiber foods, such as beans, are good meat substitutes. Fruits and vegetables are good choices for their fiber content, as well as for the many other nutrients they contain. Fiber supplements do not contain the beneficial vitamins and other substances in fruits and vegetables.
- Should I reduce my fat content?
While consuming a diet that is low in fat has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease, the possible benefit for prevention of cancer recurrence is not yet proven. After surgery, adding moderate amounts of fats and fat-containing foods can help to improve caloric intake.
- Should I avoid refined sugar?
Refined sugars can cause fatigue due to fluctuating blood sugar levels, and they do not contain the same level of nutritional value as sugars naturally present in whole foods. It is therefore wise to limit intake of refined sugars (including brown sugar) in favor of more nutritious foods.
- Should I become a vegetarian?
It is not necessary to eliminate meat from the diet after surgery, but reducing red meat intake (and other sources of saturated fats) can reduce one's risk of heart disease, and may also reduce risk of colon and prostate cancers. Diets that include lean meats in small to moderate amounts can also be healthy.
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- Should I supplement my diet with vitamins and minerals?
The best source of vitamins and minerals is foods. During illness and recovery dietary intake may not be optimal, so a vitamin and mineral supplement may be needed. The best choice is a balanced multivitamin/mineral supplement containing as much as 100% of the "Daily Value" of most nutrients (formerly known as the "RDA"-Recommended Daily Allowance). Some people believe that if a little bit of a nutrient is good for you, then a lot must be better. There is no scientific evidence to support that idea. In fact, high doses of nutrients can have harmful effects. Be sure to discuss vitamin and mineral supplement use with your health care provider.
- Can I get the nutritional equivalent of fruits and vegetables in a pill?
No. Many hundreds of healthful compounds are found in fruits and vegetables. The small amount of dried powder contained in pills that are presented as being equivalent to fruits and vegetables includes only a small fraction of the levels contained in the whole foods.
- Should I take antioxidants?
It is not a good idea to take "mega-doses" of any vitamin or mineral, including the antioxidant nutrients, at any time. High doses of antioxidants may interfere with the effectiveness of any further therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Be sure to discuss your use of supplements with your health care provider. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources for naturally occurring antioxidants.
- Should I take supplements containing beta-carotene?
Supplements containing 5 mg or less of beta-carotene are unlikely to be harmful, as this is similar to the levels available from foods. However, higher dose supplements should be avoided because studies have shown that higher doses may actually increase the risk for certain cancers such as lung cancer.
- How do I know that alternative or complementary methods are safe for me?
Study all sources of information, but beware of testimonials or information that come only from those who are selling a product. Also, be sure to tell your health care providers about the methods you wish to use, so they may advise you about any particular interaction that might occur with conventional medical therapy. It is also best to remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is not true.
Diet and Symptoms
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- Are there foods that will help with my loss of appetite?
Loss of appetite and nausea are commonly experienced after your surgery. Taste perceptions often change. Adding or increasing spices and condiments to meals may be needed temporarily to increase food appeal. Experiment with spices and flavorings often, as tastes may change. If you are having problems with food odors try cool or cold foods instead of hot to decrease aromas. Use covered pots, boiling bags, or a kitchen fan can minimize cooking odors. Taste changes are common. Try using plastic eating utensils and nonmetal cooling containers to help alleviate this problem. Try to eat small, more frequent meals and snacks. In some instances, medications can be helpful to reduce nausea. There are also medications that can help to stimulate appetite. Ask your health care provider if those might be good for you.
- What can I do to reduce fatigue?
Fatigue can be reduced by nutrition and physical activity. After surgery, many patients become fatigued because they do not eat enough, do not drink enough fluids, or do not exercise enough. Starting slowly with an exercise regimen, even if only for a few minutes a day can help restore energy. The frequency and duration of a simple activity like walking can be steadily increased. Do not hesitate to tell your health care providers about your fatigue.
- Should I be concerned about unintentional weight loss?
Weight loss often occurs after surgery. Continued weight loss should be avoided. Weight loss can be minimized by adequate dietary intake. Use of between-meal snacks that are good sources of calories, fat, and protein can help.
- Is there a diet to help improve anemia?
A balanced diet can help support the body's repair system for producing new blood cells. Iron supplements should be taken only after consulting with your health care provider. Extra iron is useful to correct iron deficiency, but it is not helpful for other conditions, and it can cause digestive system side effects.