General Guidelines for Nutrition and Surgery

The Tracey Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Services
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: December 23, 2014

Good nutrition is an important part of recovery after surgery. A well balanced diet, including protein and vitamin C, helps play an important role in healing and re-building tissue after surgery.

Vitamins: Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – a substance found in plants felt to be health-protective.

  • Try for at least 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables a day (about 2 ½ cups).
  • At least 2 of these servings should be foods that are rich in Vitamin C. Examples include: Citrus fruits like orange or grapefruit, kiwifruit, strawberries and cantaloupe. Vegetables such as red and green peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, and most leafy green vegetables.

Protein: Examples of high protein food include:

  • Dairy foods such as eggs, egg whites, milk, Greek yogurt, etc. (consider low fat options).
  • Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, other poultry, beef, lamb, pork or fish.
  • Beans (legumes) such as lentils, kidney beans, black beans, chick peas, navy beans, split peas.
  • Nuts (low salt) such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts.
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, brown rice, whole wheat.
  • More information about protein during cancer treatment.

Supplements: If your diet includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains, you may not need additional supplements.If you are interested in taking additional vitamin or mineral supplements, please talk to your healthcare provider for recommendations.

Find recipes and additional information about nutrition during and after cancer on OncoLink.

For recipes, current research and helpful resources on diet and lifestyle, visit The American Institute for Cancer Research.

*NOTE: If you have special dietary restrictions for a health related problem, please talk to your healthcare provider before using these guidelines.


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