We talk about getting our bodies ready for the “beach” or even getting ready for party season, but we rarely hear of people getting themselves ready for surgery even though millions undergo surgeries every year.
However, getting well in the lead-up to any planned surgery can make all the difference, as studies show it can help you leave the hospital sooner and recover faster.
Even simple modifications to your diet can help. Research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2017 showed that patients who were advised what to eat — as well as given nutritious protein supplements along with their normal food — not only had lower infection rates, they also left hospital on average four hours earlier. days of those who did not.
I’ve seen this effect myself: I worked in a hospital with patients undergoing surgery for head and neck cancer and we likened the process of preparing for the operation to preparing for a marathon, both of which put the body under tremendous stress.
We talk about getting our bodies ready for “the beach” or even getting ready for party season, but we rarely hear about people getting ready for surgery even though millions undergo surgeries each year, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured).
For surgery, you often have to endure fasting for hours before the operation, the trauma of the surgery itself – and then there are the intense energy demands of recovery.
The body must also feed the immune system, which is hungrier than usual as it fights off the inevitable attacks, at the same time as it produces more tissue while it recovers. The bottom line is that before any operation you really need to eat to build up your reserves.
did you know
Tannin, a phytochemical in tea, has antioxidant properties — so it can protect our cells from damage from environmental pollutants — and anti-nutrient effects, which interfere with the body’s absorption of iron. This is why tea is good for you, but if you have low iron levels, avoid drinking it at mealtimes.
At this time, it’s more important than ever to feed your gut microbiome with the foods that help it thrive, because after surgery you’ll be relying heavily on it to keep you healthy. Ideally, you will start in the weeks leading up to your operation.
Aim to eat four different types of plants each day — think whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), nuts and seeds. They will pay you back by reducing inflammation that can interrupt the healing process and helping to fight infection – specifically helping to protect against leaky gut that usually occurs around surgery (leaky gut is when the barrier of the tight junctions that line the gut is weakened, allowing pathogenic villains to get into the blood).
Another reason for the microbiota to build up now is that antibiotics are likely to be taken—sometimes before and after surgery, which can kill off not only harmful bacteria, but also some of the beneficial bacteria in the gut. This could open the door to infections like Clostridium difficile—which can wreak havoc on the gut and make hospital patients really sick (with fewer beneficial gut bugs, more harmful bugs can take over and begin to take over).
Then, seven to ten days before the operation, it’s a good idea to look at increasing the quantity (and quality) of high-carb foods in your diet to improve energy and micronutrient stores for what lies ahead.
Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen which is a ready source of energy.
Getting this energy source can slow down the body’s breakdown of muscle as an energy source and can help combat any fatigue and feelings of weakness.
However, not all carbs are created equal – excess glycogen is stored as fat, so this isn’t the time to start eating refined carbs like white bread and crackers. Instead, look for nutrient-dense starchy vegetables, grains like quinoa, oats and barley, legumes like butter beans, and whole fruits. This will provide the fuel you need along with key nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin C for wound healing.
As a general guide, aim to include one or two extra servings in your diet for at least three to four days before surgery.
At the same time, you also need high-quality protein, as this provides amino acids, which are the building blocks needed for new tissue and keeping the body in good shape.
The quality of protein depends on several factors, including the types of amino acids it contains and how easily the body absorbs them.
Aim to eat four different types of plants each day — think whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), nuts and seeds. They will pay you back by reducing inflammation that can interrupt the healing process and helping to fight infection – specifically helping to protect against leaky gut that commonly occurs around surgery (leaky gut is when the barrier of tight junctions that line the gut becomes weak, causing Allows pathogenic harm to reach the blood)
High-quality protein usually comes from animal products such as chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan and can still get enough from plants (see my recipe, right), you may just need to increase your portions a bit.
I would focus on your intake of the amino acid arginine (found in fish, poultry, soybeans, and oats) and glutamine (found in eggs, beef, and firm tofu). These are ‘conditionally essential’ amino acids – the body can make them but it depends on the circumstances, and the stress of surgery likely means production can’t keep up with requirements.
Make sure to eat a high-quality source of protein at every meal – 1.2g to 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is recommended (so if you weigh 62kg it would be 75g to 124g of protein per day), which is best spread out over the course of a day. per day in portions of 20g to 40g to increase absorption.
Some of my favorite sources of protein and nutrients before and after recovery include:
- 200g yogurt (20g protein)
- 100g salmon (20g protein)
- 2 eggs (11 grams protein)
- 50g nuts (20g protein)
- 200g lentils (18g protein)
- 100g firm tofu (17g protein)
After surgery, aim to eat two to three servings per week of omega-3-containing foods – such as oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) because these fats have an anti-inflammatory effect.
However, if you have lost your appetite, eat whatever you want – this is the situation where something is better than nothing. After surgery narcotic medications, pain relievers and immobilization can lead to constipation, as they slow down the normal muscle contractions of the intestines.
If this happens, eating 50 grams of prunes daily should help get you back to your usual activity. If you’re not a fan of prunes, try eating a few kiwis a day—another great source of gut-stimulating fiber, especially if you eat the skin.
Another thing to consider is to increase your physical activity in the three months prior to the operation. Surgery often results in a loss of muscle mass—largely from reduced activity—so you want to start in a good place. Studies also show that more fit people recover faster.
Before surgery, you can increase your visits to the gym, try hitting 10,000 steps a day—people with limited mobility can go up and down stairs several times each day—or use tin cans from your kitchen cupboard as weights to lift daily.
A study conducted by King’s College Hospital in London in 2017 found that even this type of home exercise can make a difference in the speed of your recovery. The goal is to get yourself as good as you can. You will pay dividends.
How harmful are the chemicals in tap water (such as chlorine) to your good gut bacteria? Is it a good idea to invest in a water filter?
Great question! First, it’s worth noting that chlorine is added to the water to prevent the growth of pathogens, making it safe to drink. Low levels added to tap water in most countries are considered safe by international authorities.
However, as you rightly suggest, these safety checks predated our understanding of the importance of our gut microbiota.
Researchers at the University of California recently measured the effect of drinking water free of chlorine and chlorine on 130 children in urban areas of Bangladesh.
Interestingly, the findings reported an increase in some beneficial gut bacteria such as Akkermansia spp in those who drank chlorinated water, possibly related to lower rates of infection due to chlorine.
They also found that chlorinated water did not affect the diversity of gut bacteria, which is often used as a measure of gut health.
Now, this study didn’t compare filtered water but from my experience in the clinic, when it comes to water, what’s most important for most of us is making sure we drink enough, regardless of whether it’s filtered or not.
Try this: a Snickers juice bowl.
Shake up an ultra-processed protein shake, not only does this provide 18g of protein and 10g of fiber, but it tastes like a Snickers bar — without the added sugar and additives.
- 60 grams of silken tofu
- 50 grams of thick live yogurt
- 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa
- 1 frozen very ripe banana
- 1 tablespoon of nut butter of your choice
- 40 grams of frozen zucchini
- 2 Medjool pitted dates
- 5 grams of coconut flakes
- 15 grams of granola, without adding sugar
Place smoothie ingredients in a high-powered blender for about 1 minute, until smooth (layer in frozen ingredients first for a smooth blend). Pour into a bowl and add the toppings of your choice.