Diet after Bowel Surgery

Last Modified: April 29, 2010


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I'm a survivor of anal cancer and also had to have 6-8" of small bowel removed last year because my radiation treatment really messed it up. [The only thing] dietitians have told me is that plenty of fruits and veggies are good. My problem is [that] I can't digest them or lots of other foodsl, so what am I supposed to eat to stay healthy?


Sherri Cirignano, MS, RD, LDN, Clinical Dietitian Specialist for the Abramson Cancer Center, responds:

The following are recommendations that may be helpful in the situation you have described.

  • Frequent, small meals (5-6 times daily)
  • The diet should consist of mostly complex carbohydrates, which are whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This should comprise 50-60% of the total daily calories.
  • Lean protein from sources such as the white meat of poultry, fish, and lean meats.
  • No more than 20-30% of the diet should be fat from sources such as olive oil & canola oil.
  • Canned fruit and cooked vegetable such as green beans, beets, and carrots can be eaten if fresh fruit and vegetables are not tolerated.
  • Simple carbohydrates/sugars should be avoided. Examples of this are fruit juices and beverages and food items with sugar listed as one of the first 3-4 ingredients
  • Foods should be well-chewed
  • Fiber and vitamin supplementation may be indicated

It may also be beneficial for you to have another face-to-face meeting with a Registered Dietitian if you continue to experience difficulties and/or are losing weight. Perhaps meeting with a dietitian several times over a few months while you get things regulated would be helpful. Keep a log of what you eat and when, what side effects you experience, and when they occur in relation to meals in order to review everything with your dietitian.