Best Foods After Surgery

  • Alisha Solanki BSc Biomedical science, University of Central Lancashire, UK


Why is post-surgery nutrition important?

Nutritional status is important in post-operative healing. Those who are malnourished have high readmission rates into hospital, a longer period of stay in hospital and are subjected to more post-operative complications.1

The role of food in healing and recovery

Certain food groups have an important role in healing and recovery post-surgery. There is a higher demand for proteins after surgery to assist with tissue rebuilding and wound healing. Depending on the surgery there can be a great loss of skeletal muscle mass post-surgery. Increasing your intake of protein can help to accelerate recovery. Protein is not the only food group that is important in healing and recovery. Carbohydrates are also a key food group to help facilitate rehabilitation after surgery due to their high mineral and vitamin content. Consumption of fatty acids is also important in healing and recovery to avoid a prolonged inflammatory response post-surgery, which can be counterproductive when the body is trying to heal. Fatty acids are also a source of energy, which is vital in wound recovery after surgery.2 

Immediate post-surgery diet

Clear liquids and hydration

Importance of staying hydrated

After surgery, the immune system is weakened which makes the body more susceptible to catching an infection. Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water can keep these infections away. Staying hydrated is also important to prevent deep vein thrombosis, where a blood clot forms in the major veins of the legs or thighs. Drinking clear liquids such as water can wash out the toxins in the body from anaesthesia.

Types of clear liquids recommended:

  • Water
  • Fruit juices without pulp
  • Sports drinks
  • Tea and coffee which does not contain cream or a non-dairy equivalent

Gradual transition to soft foods

As the post-surgery recovery period progresses, there will be a transition from a liquid diet to a soft food diet. In order to aid this transition, soft foods will have to be cut up into bite-sized pieces, continue drinking plenty of fluids, approximately 40-64 ounces a day, and eat meals two or three hours apart.

Avoidance of hard-to-digest foods

Avoiding hard-to-digest foods is important after surgery as it can take some time for your appetite and bowel movements to return to normal after surgery. Hard-to-digest foods to avoid include the following (note that this list is not exhaustive):

  • Tough fibrous meats
  • Juices with a pulp
  • Meat with casings, such as hot dogs
  • Jams and jellies containing seeds
  • Whole spices, such as peppercorns
  • Foods containing dried fruits
  • Foods containing nuts

Importance of following medical recommendations

Following dietary guidelines, provided by a medical profession, such a doctor or dietician, can accelerate recovery post-surgery.

Nutrient-rich foods

Protein-rich foods include the following:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Pulses, including beans and lentils
  • Nuts

Role in tissue repair

Proteins are made up of small building blocks called amino acids, which are important in tissue growth and cell renewal. Tissue growth and cell renewal are particularly crucial after undergoing surgery and sustaining a wound to aid in the recovery process.3

Sources of high-quality protein include the following:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Pulses

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamin C for collagen production

Consumption of vitamin C activates a series of biochemical pathways in the body, which are associated with collagen synthesis, resulting in an increase in collagen production.4 Collagen is a key protein in the human body which provides structure and support for the skin, muscles and connective tissues within the body, which accelerates the wound healing process after surgery (Cleveland Clinic).

Iron for red blood cell production

Iron is a mineral, which is necessary for haemoglobin production. Haemoglobin is a protein found within blood cells, which carries oxygen to all the cells within the body. Therefore a lack of iron can result in less haemoglobin formation, and red blood cell production. This means that less oxygen will be delivered to the cells of the body, possibly resulting in cell death, this will prolong the healing process post-surgery.

Fiber-rich foods

Fiber-rich foods are important when recovering from surgery, as not only are they healthier than low fiber-containing foods, but fiber also prevents constipation, which can be a common post-surgery complication. A diet high in insoluble fibre can also accelerate the movement of stool through the digestive tract (Very Well Health).

High-fibre foods include the following:

  • Oatmeal
  • Wholemeal wheat bread
  • Bran cereals
  • Legumes
  • Beans

Foods to avoid

High sugar and processed foods

Blood sugar levels may be higher than normal after surgery so it is advisable to avoid foods such as soft drinks, cakes and sweets. Highly processed foods should also be avoided. Foods, which are highly processed have a low fiber content, which can result in post-surgery complications, such as constipation, due to the stool not moving down the digestive tract. Highly processed foods can also cause inflammation within the body. Fast foods are an example of highly processed, as well as meats such as sausages. Therefore, these foods should be avoided post-surgery.

Fatty and fried foods

Fatty and fried foods should be avoided post-surgery as they have less nutrients, which are needed for the body to heal and recover. These foods can also be difficult to digest after surgery, which may result in side effects such as vomiting.

Spicy foods

Spicy foods may irritate the stomach after surgery so these should also be avoided. Spicy foods may also cause side effects after surgery, such as vomiting and nausea, similar to consuming fatty and fried foods. After oral surgery, spicy foods may cause irritation to the surgery site in the mouth and could prolong healing (Piney Point Dental Implants).

Special dietary considerations

Dental surgery and soft foods

Dental surgery can include having a tooth extracted, periodontal surgery, and surgery on the root of the tooth. After dental surgery, it is important to eat soft foods, as this can reduce irritation when there is an open wound in the mouth. Soft foods can include smoothies, yoghurts, mashed potato and scrambled eggs.

Gastrointestinal surgery and modified diet

After gastrointestinal surgery there has to be a progression in the diet from liquids to puree to soft foods and finally hard foods. This gradual texture progression will allow any wounds from surgery to heal and prevent postoperative complications. This will also allow food to pass down through the digestive system from the stomach to the small intestine for further digestion.

Food allergies and intolerances

Changes to the gastrointestinal system after gastrointestinal surgery can cause the body to have to adapt. After gastric band surgery the following intolerances are the most common: red meat, pasta/sweets and milk.5

Meal planning tips

Small frequent meals

Avoiding the standard 3 meals a day and adopting a diet of smaller and more frequent meals can be very beneficial after surgery. This allows your body's higher nutritional needs to be met, which can aid in speeding up the recovery process. The average number of meals should be approximately 4-5 post-surgery

Managing appetite and digestion

It is common in the early stages of recovery for patients to experience a lack of hunger after an operation. Especially when looking at surgeries on the gastrointestinal tract there may be certain foods which are harder to digest, and may not agree with your body after surgery.

Preparing meals in advance

Preparing meals in advance after surgery can take the pressure off. Many people incorporate foods that they like into meal preparation after surgery.

Reduce stress during recovery

Preparing meals may also reduce stress post-surgery. This is beneficial for recovery as some studies have reported that an increase in stress can lead to prolonged wound recovery after surgery.6

Consulting with a dietician

A dietician can give personalised dietary guidance, by considering the patient’s condition after surgery and their current nutritional intake. Dieticians can use this information to develop a diet plan to aid recovery.

Sample post-surgery meal plan

After moving from a clear fluid diet to a diet consisting of soft foods, the following meal plan can serve as an advisory guide.


  • Toasted white bread, portion size should be one slice
  • For a bowl of fibre cereal, the portion size should be restricted to a small bowl


  1. Soup- tomato or chicken


  1. Mashed potato and gravy


  • Plain biscuit
  • Yoghurt
  • Banana based snacks

To begin with, all portion sizes should be restricted, but this can gradually increase as time goes on.

Monitoring and adjusting

Paying attention to body signals

It’s important not to eat and drink too much at one-time post-surgery. It takes twenty minutes for the brain to realize it’s full so pacing yourself through meals is advised and adhering to smaller portion sizes where necessary.

Hunger, fullness and discomfort

Keeping a food log can be beneficial to see what foods and portion sizes are best for you during your recovery. Any negative symptoms/ discomfort experienced should also be kept track of, such as feeling too full, having reflux and abdomen pain.

Nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies can occur after surgery, with bariatric surgery having the highest number of nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies include iron, folate, and calcium.7


  • Post-surgery nutrition is crucial for preventing post-surgery complications and to aid with recovery.
  • Protein is important for recovery, helping to aid with tissue repair and wound recovery.
  • Vitamins and minerals are also crucial, including vitamin C for collagen production and minerals such as iron for the blood.
  • At first, a clear liquid-based diet may be recommended, before moving onto a soft food diet and then hard food.
  • A  balanced diet can improve patient outcomes, as different food groups contribute to recovery. These include proteins, complex carbohydrates and foods high in fibre.
  • Fatty foods, processed foods and foods high in sugar should be avoided to prevent inflammation.


  1. Hirsch KR, Wolfe RR, Ferrando AA. Pre- and post-surgical nutrition for preservation of muscle mass, strength, and functionality following orthopaedic surgery. Nutrients. 2021 May 15;13(5):1675.
  2. Smith-Ryan AE, Hirsch KR, Saylor HE, Gould LM, Blue MN. Nutritional considerations and strategies to facilitate injury recovery and rehabilitation. Journal of athletic training. 2020 Sep 1;55(9):918-30.. PubMed Central,
  3. Wang X, Yu Z, Zhou S, Shen S, Chen W. The Effect of a Compound Protein on Wound Healing and Nutritional Status. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2022 Mar 24;2022. PubMed Central,
  4. DePhillipo NN, Aman ZS, Kennedy MI, Begley JP, Moatshe G, LaPrade RF. Efficacy of vitamin C supplementation on collagen synthesis and oxidative stress after musculoskeletal injuries: a systematic review. Orthopaedic journal of sports medicine. 2018 Oct 19;6(10):2325967118804544. PubMed Central,
  5. Moreira MD, Espínola PR, AZEVEDO CW, GUEDES CK. Food intolerances and associated symptoms in patients undergoing Fobi-Capella technique without gastric ring. ABCD. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cirurgia Digestiva (São Paulo). 2015;28:36-9. PubMed Central,
  6. Gouin JP, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. The impact of psychological stress on wound healing: methods and mechanisms. Immunology and Allergy Clinics. 2011 Feb 1;31(1):81-93.. PubMed Central,
  7. Argyrakopoulou G, Konstantinidou SK, Dalamaga M, Kokkinos A. Nutritional deficiencies before and after bariatric surgery: prevention and treatment. Current Nutrition Reports. 2022 Jun;11(2):95-101.. Springer Link,
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Alisha Solanki

BSc Biomedical science, University of Central Lancashire

Current biomedical science student with a keen interest in medical communications. I have a passion for producing scientifically correct articles in plain language, and communicating advances in the biomedical field to the public. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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