What foods should I eat after surgery?

The best foods for recovery from surgery will vary somewhat depending on underlying health conditions and which particular surgery was undertaken. Be sure to consult with your doctor to understand your individual dietary requirements. Taking those recommendations into consideration, the following guidelines will help to ease your recovery from surgery.

Best food for Recovery from surgery

In Canada, over one million surgeries are performed each year. The top ten inpatient surgery types in Canada in 2017 – 2018 are as follows:

  1. Caesarean section delivery
  2. Knee replacement surgery
  3. Hip replacement surgery
  4. Fractures
  5. Coronary artery angioplasty
  6. Hysterectomy
  7. Appendix removal
  8. Gallbladder removal
  9. Prostate removal
  10. Pacemaker insertion

In the United States, 43 million outpatient surgeries are performed each year, and 15 million inpatient surgeries are performed.

Fully 72% of the outpatient surgeries occur in patients aged 45 or older. That figure is likely to be even higher for inpatient surgeries. And patients aged 65 years and older are two to three times more likely to experience surgical procedures than younger patients.

Complications after surgery are reported to occur in as many as 43% of patients who undergo general surgery. Common post-surgery complications include:

  • Pain
  • Infections
  • Blood clots
  • Loss of muscle
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Breathing problems
  • Urine retention
  • Constipation

While many of these complications cannot be prevented, a healthy post-surgery diet can help you recover by addressing a few of the above-mentioned complications.

During a lifetime, most people either undergo surgery themselves, or care for an individual who has undergone surgery. If you or someone you care for has recently had a surgical procedure, you may be wondering what to eat after surgery.

The Best Healing Foods to Eat After Surgery<\h2>

The following foods will help your body to heal after surgery by providing the energy and nutrients needed for optimal function and recovery. Give your body the building blocks it requires to help prevent infection, build strength, improve digestion, and maintain a healthy lifestyle so you can get back to living an independent, high-quality life.

Best foods for recover from surgery: Fiber

When you undergo general anesthesia, your digestive tract ceases its movement entirely. This effect lasts even after you wake up from anesthesia, and is the reason many people experience symptoms of nausea and vomiting after surgery.

It can even take days for the digestive tract to “wake up” after surgery, leading to one of the most common side effects after surgery: constipation.

healing foods for recovery from surgery

Even if you experience regular bowel movements before having surgery, you will likely experience constipation afterward.

High-fiber foods will help you to regain bowel regularity, which can make a big impact on how you feel after surgery. Women should aim for 21 – 25 grams of fiber each day, while men should aim to eat between 30 – 38 grams daily.

High-fiber foods include the following: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, whole grain foods, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts and seeds.




Best foods for recover from surgery: Water

While not technically a food, water is the most important substance your body requires to survive and thrive. Every cell in your body requires water to function properly.

Most people do not drink nearly enough water. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43% of adults drink less than four cups of water per day. Of those, 7% drink none. Older adults are more likely to not drink enough water, yet they are also the ones more likely to undergo surgery.

drink water to recovery from surgery

Adequate water intake helps prevent constipation as well as urine retention, both complications of surgery. It also aids in cellular function, which has far-reaching beneficial effects on healing.

While most people think of the common recommendation of eight glasses of water per day, that’s a rough estimate of adequate water intake. The reality is, not everyone requires the same amount of water.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have determined that adequate daily water intake, including water that comes from food and other beverages, is:

  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 litres[JJ1] ) of fluids for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids for women

For some people, fewer than eight glasses of water per day will be enough. For others, it might not be. Factors such as exercise, hot or humid weather, high altitudes, and overall health will all affect an individual’s water requirements.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your fluid intake is probably enough if you rarely feel thirsty and if your urine is colorless or light yellow.

Best foods for recover from surgery: Protein

Protein is one of three macronutrients the body requires to survive. Proteins are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of muscles and tissues throughout the body. After patients undergo less-complicated elective surgeries, they lose on average 2 kg of lean muscle mass due to the body’s surgical stress response, which involves the breakdown of proteins inside the body to promote healing. With more complicated surgeries, they may lose even more weight.

Certain proteins, especially the amino acid arginine, are also involved in promoting a healthy immune response that helps fight infections after surgery.

Eating a range of protein foods after surgery will help to ensure that your body is getting the range of amino acids it needs to rebuild muscle and other tissues, heal wounds, fight infections, build strength, and increase energy after surgery.

High-protein foods include the following:

  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Brown rice
  • Egg whites
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)

Best foods for recover from surgery: Healthy Fats

Omega-3 fats have been found to help to improve immune function, regulate the level of inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress and complications in patients who underwent GI surgery.

Foods high in omega-3 fats include:

  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Beans
  • Fortified foods and beverages

In addition to omega-3 fats, other healing food that contains healthy fats include:

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Nuts and seeds


Carbohydrates are another one of the body’s three main macronutrient requirements. Carbohydrates (or carbs, for short) are the most readily available food source for energy inside the body, and thus are an important healing food when the body is recovering from surgery has higher energy needs.

A wide range of foods contain carbohydrates, but the best options are known as complex carbohydrates—these include the healthy fiber that is crucial for regaining bowel regularity after surgery.

Foods high in complex carbohydrates include:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Fruits and vegetables


Antioxidants are crucial nutrients that neutralize harmful free radicals in the body that are responsible for damaging tissues, especially in patients who are critically ill. Studies have investigated the use of various antioxidant formulas for use in critically ill patients due to the extensive oxidative stress they experience while ill.

Antioxidants include vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that work inside the body in similar ways. Vitamins A, E, and C, selenium, manganese, copper, and zinc are essential antioxidant nutrients or cofactors that promote tissue healing in the body. Other non-essential antioxidants can also be found in certain foods.

best healing food post surgery

Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Liver
  • Seafood
  • Chocolate
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in over 300 metabolic pathways in the body. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and immune health, both crucial for older adults who have undergone surgery. People with inadequate vitamin D levels are more likely to have adverse outcomes after surgery.

Vitamin D and healing from surgery

It is estimated that between 50 and 80% of people have deficient or insufficient vitamin D levels. Knee and hip replacements, as well as bone fractures, make up a high percentage of surgeries in older adults, highlighting the importance of healthy bones in this population.

There are not many foods that contain vitamin D, which helps explain the high rates of deficiency.

High in vitamin D, some of the best foods for recovery after surgery include:

  • Fish
  • Cod liver oil

A vitamin D3 supplement can help increase vitamin D levels in people who are deficient and don’t eat a lot of fish.


Up to 90% of patients experience iron-deficiency anaemia after major surgery. While numerous factors contribute to the anaemia, inadequate nutrition post-surgery plays a role. A combination of iron-containing foods, iron supplements, and in some cases, blood transfusions can help to correct anaemia in these patients.

There are two types of iron found in food: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is better absorbed than non-heme iron.

Foods high in heme iron include:

  • Beef
  • Eggs
  • Tuna
  • Liver
  • Clams
  • Shrimp
  • Turkey leg
  • Leg of lamb

Foods high in non-heme iron include:

  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Beans (kidney, lima, navy)
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Enriched cereals
  • Peanut butter
  • Brown rice
  • Molasses
  • Spinach

Fermented Foods

Many people receive antibiotics either before, during, or after surgery to prevent or treat infections. A major side effect of antibiotic use is the destruction of beneficial gut bacteria that leads to gastrointestinal distress and sometimes digestive infections. The beneficial bacteria in the gut normally help prevent such digestive distress as well as help to promote bowel motility and regularity, crucial for preventing constipation.

Replenishing the gut with beneficial probiotic bacteria in the form of fermented foods (and sometimes probiotic supplements) is a great way to promote digestive health after surgery.

Fermented foods that contain probiotics include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Fermented pickles
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Kefir
  • Miso

A diet containing a wide range of food that heals, including many of the above-mentioned foods, will help you recover after surgery. If you find that you need more help and support than anticipated post-surgery, Guardian Home Care is committed to senior home care. If you require post-surgery nursing care or elder care services contact us today to learn more about how our home care services can meet your needs.

healing from surgery