Eating After Colon Surgery

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Q: My mother has recently undergone colorectal surgery to remove a portion of her sigmoid colon. She will be home soon and I need to have some meals prepared for her. Can you give me any suggestions?

A: Patients who have undergone recent bowel surgery should follow a special diet that will decrease the work their bodies must do to digest food. The goal is to avoid stretching the area where the bowel has been reattached, and to help decrease gas production (a common side-effect after surgery) that can be uncomfortable. This special diet is a temporary way of eating and a doctor will advance the diet to include other items when it is appropriate.

Start with clear liquids (i.e. juice, gelatin, clear broths, tea, etc.) that are necessary to assess the resected bowel's function. If these items are tolerated by the patient, slowly advancing her to a diet that is low in fiber and fat will allow for adequate nutrition while reducing stress on the gut during digestion. Use the list below for specific suggestions for her special diet:

  • Beverages: Staying hydrated is important following surgery. Stick to fruit and vegetable juices without pulp, water, and Gatorade. Avoid caffeinated beverages, prune juice, and other drinks with dietary fiber.
  • Dairy Products: Because the gut may produce fewer enzymes for milk digestion after surgery, limit dairy to 2 servings (2 cups) daily, as tolerated. Lactaid tablets may be necessary for intolerance. Choose low-fat or fat-free products. Avoid full-fat dairy and cream-based soups.
  • Grains, Breads, and Cereals: Fiber in whole grains, breads and cereals will cause slower movement of food through the gut, resulting in irritation. Select white bread, pasta, crackers, and refined cereals (i.e. cornflakes, Cream of Wheat) when preparing meals.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Choose canned and cooked fruits and vegetables without the skin. Raw cantaloupe, melon, watermelon and bananas are okay; other raw fruits are too fibrous for the gut to break down effectively following surgery.
  • Meats and Meat Alternatives: Protein is important for healing. Look for tender/skinless chicken and turkey, white fish, and lean cuts of meat (remove visible fat). Avoid fried foods as well as luncheon meats that are high in fat. Eggs (not fried), egg substitutes, and tofu are also excellent sources of protein.
  • Miscellaneous: Cook with non-stick sprays or use moist cooking methods (boiling, braising) instead of using oils or butters. Choose low-fat condiments and seasonings, as tolerated.

Preparing smaller, more frequent meals with the above foods will be easier to digest than three larger ones. Meeting with a registered dietitian is always recommended to maximize intake based on individual needs.

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