NUTRITION CARE

Using Nutrition to Support the Surgery Recovery Process

Nutrition for Surgery Recovery | Abbott Nutrition

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How Proper Nutrition Can Help Support Your Recovery After Surgery

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AUG. 24, 2018  3 MIN. READ
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Each year in the U.S., there are 35 million hospital stays, with an average length of stay of 4.6 days. Whether from a planned surgery to an unplanned sickness, recovering after a hospital visit can feel like it takes longer to feel like ourselves. The good news is that with the right strategies you can support a strong recovery.

Here are expert answers to four common questions that will help you do just that. 

1. What should I eat if I'm trying to get back on my feet?

No matter how big or small the procedure, surgery inflicts trauma on your body. Recovery time depends on the type of surgery you had, but even then, it's variable how long it'll be before you can resume normal activities.

Good nutrition can play a key role in helping you regain strength and heal after surgery.

If you invest in good nutrition now, you can give your body a "nutritional reserve" if you have a health setback. Jacqueline Boff, Ph.D., MBA, a research scientist at Abbott, recommends eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Specifically, make sure you're consuming:

  • Protein:

    Part of every tissue in your body, protein plays a major role in building, repairing, and maintaining muscle.

    Current U.S. RDA recommendations suggest the average healthy adult eat 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per day for every pound they weigh. That's about 56 grams for men and 46 for women. But some experts recommend getting almost twice that amount as you age, especially if you're recovering from surgery, battling an illness or are malnourished.

    Aim to get 25 to 30 grams at every meal or add higher protein snacks to your diet to increase your intake.
  • Vitamin C

    : This nutrient helps support the repair of tendons, ligaments and surgical wounds. Look for strawberries, kiwi fruit, baked potatoes, broccoli and bell peppers.

  • Vitamin D and Calcium

    : Consuming dairy foods will help with repairing and strengthening damaged bones.

  • Fiber

    : Following surgery, constipation is a common side-effect.  Help normal digestive health by consuming foods with fiber, such as dried figs, raspberries, and oatmeal.

2. How can I support muscle health?

Your muscles are a critical source for strength and energy as you recover. When you're sick or hospitalized, your body often doesn't get enough of the nutrients it needs to recover, such as protein, causing it to break down muscle tissue. This kind of muscle loss is associated with delayed recovery from illness, slowed wound healing, and diminished quality of life.

In addition to a balanced diet with plenty of protein, you can also consider adding HMB to your diet. HMB or beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate is a substance that supports muscle health. HMB is naturally produced by your body when it breaks down leucine, an amino acid found in protein-rich foods.

"However, HMB naturally declines in the body as we age," Boff said. "It’s important to be proactive about muscle health as we age and consume enough protein to support muscles, and when needed, add HMB supplements.”

HMB can be found in small amounts in avocado, citrus fruit, catfish and in nutrition supplements.

3. Why is water critical for recovery?

Nearly 60% of adult bodies are water. And it should come as no surprise that water is essential for keeping us functioning well and feeling our best.

Water helps keep your blood flowing, carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells and protects your joints. As your body recovers from an illness or injury, it sends water and nutrients to that location. If you're not replenishing those fluids, the wound healing and cell repair processes take longer, ultimately hindering your recovery.

In addition to drinking water, food choices can account for approximately 20% of your daily fluid intake. Turn to foods like melons, tomatoes, and strawberries, which are naturally rich in water and electrolytes and critical to healthy nerve and muscle function as you recover.

4. What about exercise?

The last step to getting back on your feet? Just that! Light activities like resistance training, daily walks, stretching, or yoga can be hugely beneficial, especially if you're feeling fatigued after a procedure or sickness. Be sure to work with your physician to determine what's best for you.

Keeping your whole body strong and healthy year-round means you can maintain your independence at any age, even if you're recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery. Remember, it's never too late to live your best life – no matter what life brings you.

Wound Healing Support Through Nutrition

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Each person  is unique, so it makes sense that the wound healing rate would vary from one person to another. But for nutritionally at-risk individuals, especially those with underlying health issues such as cancer, diabetes and other chronic conditions, the wound healing process after injuries and surgeries may not proceed as expected.  

If this sounds like you, don't panic. “With the right nutrition, you can support your recovery and overall healing process”, says Jeff Nelson, associate research fellow at Abbott. We sat down with him to discuss some health conditions that can affect wound healing and why nutrition should be part of your care plan. 

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Recovering from Surgery: Nutrition for Surgical Wound Healing

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We're all different. But we're all made up of 99.9% of the same DNA, meaning our bodies aren't so different after all. In fact, we need many of the same elements to function. This is especially true with nutrition for wound healing.

Poor nutrition is just one factor that can delay wound healing. Age, as well as health conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, malnutrition, and cardiovascular issues can further impact healing. Soft-tissue infections and medications can also contribute to delayed wound healing. 

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