Nutrition After Surgery

Author: The Tracey Birnhak Nutritional Counseling Services
Content Contributor: The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania; Katherine Okonak, MSW, LSW
Last Reviewed: January 22, 2024

Proper nutrition after surgery can help you heal. This includes staying hydrated, eating a variety of foods, and making sure to get enough protein and vitamin C. Talk to your provider about any special diet you may need to follow after surgery and any dietary restrictions you have. Do not take any nutritional supplements without first talking to your provider.


Keeping your body hydrated helps it to work correctly. It helps regulate your body temperature and remove toxins from your body. Fluids that help keep you hydrated include water, decaffeinated tea and coffee, juices, popsicles, gelatin, and broths. You should be aware of how much sugar and salt are in the fluids you are drinking to help you make healthy choices.


Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (a substance found in plants that helps to keep you healthy).

  • Aim for 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 (e.g. citrus fruits like orange or grapefruit, kiwifruit, strawberries, and cantaloupe; vegetables like red and green peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, and most leafy green veggies).


Be sure to eat enough protein after surgery. If you’re not sure how much protein you should be having, you can talk with your provider or a dietician. Foods high in protein are:

  • Dairy foods such as eggs, egg whites, milk, and Greek yogurt.
  • Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, other poultry, beef, lamb, pork, or fish.
  • Beans (legumes) such as lentils, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, and split peas.
  • Nuts (low salt) such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts.
  • Whole grains such as quinoa, barley, brown rice, and whole wheat.

Trouble Eating after Surgery

The surgery itself and the medications used can affect your eating habits. If you are having trouble eating after surgery, talk to your provider about how you can have your nutritional needs met. If you are not feeling hungry, try to eat foods that appeal to you. If you have nausea after surgery, you may be given anti-nausea medications. Some patients find that ginger or eating plain foods can help to reduce nausea after surgery. You may also have trouble moving your bowels which can lead to trouble with eating. Ask your provider how to manage your constipation. Eating small, frequent, nutritious, high-calorie (if needed), meals can also help with these side effects.

Find recipes and more tips about eating habits during and after cancer at  OncoLink.

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