Taking care of yourself postoperatively is essential for your health, and an important part of this responsibility is proper nutrition. Eating well after surgery helps your body heal safely and effectively. During recovery, you need extra support from your diet, so adding more calories, protein, vitamins and minerals to your meals helps to assist healing and fight infection.

Increasing your consumption of calorie-rich foods prevents unwanted weight loss after surgery and provides your body with the energy it needs to heal. However, make sure you are taking in calories in ways that are actually beneficial for your health.

Like other dietary factors, fat is needed to keep your body healthy. However, it should be consumed in the proper way to avoid negative health effects. Processed foods containing added sugars, solid fats and artificial ingredients provide you with “empty calories,” meaning these choices supply little or no nutritional value. Fatty foods can add a large amount of calories to your diet, but without other dietary elements, such as protein and carbohydrates, you are not getting all of the nutrients you need for recovery. Healthy fats, found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive or coconut oil, help your body absorb other nutrients, promote healthy immune functioning, and decrease your risk of infection.

Protein is one of the most important parts of your diet, especially when it comes to postoperative healing. Increasing the amount of protein you consume helps repair damaged tissue, aid in scar formation, and form antibodies needed to fight infection. It also works to balance fluids and carry oxygen throughout your body. Lean meats, poultry and fish are great sources of this powerful nutrient, along with eggs, dairy, beans, soy and whole grains.

However, red and processed meats, while often high in protein, should be limited because they can worsen inflammation. Foods, such as certain types of nuts, dark-colored fruits and vegetables, soy products, and fish loaded with omega-3s (i.e., salmon and tuna), work to fight inflammation. By adding these options to your diet and reducing your intake of inflammatory choices like fried and processed foods, you can help control postoperative swelling.

Your body needs carbohydrates that produce energy for white blood cells, the cells of the immune system that protect against infection. They also help rebuild and strengthen healing tissue by boosting collagen production and promoting proper cellular function.

But, not all types of carbohydrates are beneficial for your health. Processed and sugary foods are high in what are often called “simple” carbs that are digested quickly in the body and often have low nutritional value. By contrast, “complex” carbs take longer to break down in the digestive system, making them a more sustainable source of energy. Plus, they normally contain dietary elements that promote healthy recovery, including

fiber, vitamins and minerals. These carbs are found in whole grains, brown rice, quinoa, corn and legumes.

In order for your body to function well, you need to consume foods containing vitamins and minerals that offer a wide range of nutritional benefits, including some that specifically contribute to healing after surgery. Vitamin A, found in foods like carrots, squash, eggs, sweet potatoes, and kale, helps control inflammatory response. Citrus fruits, leafy dark vegetables, peppers, and kiwi contain vitamin C, promoting collagen formation and proper immune function. Zinc works to maintain the integrity of tissue, create new tissue, and strengthen the immune system. It is found in shellfish, quinoa, cashews, lentils, lamb, turkey, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Increasing your intake of fluids helps your body recover in many ways. After surgery, it promotes healthy skin, transports nutrients throughout the body, and helps maintain normal body temperature. Drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated, along with other healthy fluids, such as milk, soup, tea and natural juices.

We all want to heal and get back to normal life after surgery, and taking care of yourself by eating well is a vital part of this process. Consult with your doctor about changes you can make to promote healthy healing through nutrition, and look for great recipes and tips online to add nutrients to your diet in helpful and delicious ways!