Diet After Hernia Surgery

Eating a healthy diet after hernia surgery is important for proper healing. Your diet restrictions after this procedure will vary depending on the location of your hernia. Always follow your surgeon's specific instructions to avoid complications.

Include fiber-rich foods and drink plenty of water as part of your post-surgery diet. Credit: Vlad Fishman/Moment/GettyImages

Read more: Exercising With a Hernia

Understand Your Condition

A hernia occurs when tissues protrude through a weak spot in the muscles that support your internal organs. It usually occurs in the abdomen or groin when the intestines bulge through the abdominal muscles. Inguinal, femoral, umbilical and hiatal hernias are the most common types, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Small, painless hernias often protrude when you lift something or cough, and they might be "pushed back into place." You might be able to manage a small hernia without having surgery.

However, over time, hernias can get bigger. In severe cases, the protruding tissue can become strangulated or stuck in the abdominal muscle, cutting off blood flow to the area. This is a medical emergency that requires surgical intervention. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a strangulated hernia include skin color changes, intense pain, nausea or vomiting, fever or changes in bowel function.

Hernia surgery involves sewing the weakened connective tissues back together, or more commonly, the placement of mesh to reinforce the abdominal wall, according to Atrium Health.

Read more: Hernia Abdominal Exercises

Post-Surgery Diet Guidelines

After hernia surgery, your doctor will likely restrict you to liquids for the remainder of the day. You might feel nauseous or experience vomiting after anesthesia, which can be further aggravated by some foods. Ice pops, Jell-O, juice and broth soups are good foods to eat after the procedure.

If the incision was near your belly button or lower in your abdomen, you will likely be able to advance to a regular diet beginning the day after, according to Kaiser Permanente. However, certain foods will help your hernia surgery recovery go more smoothly.

Constipation is common after this procedure, even if you aren't typically prone to it. Anesthesia, pain medications, diet changes and reduced physical activity can all contribute to this uncomfortable condition. Include fiber-rich foods and drink plenty of water as part of your post-surgery diet. High-fiber foods can include:

  • Fruits: apples, mangoes, bananas, oranges, berries, pears
  • Vegetables: carrots, avocado, broccoli, beets, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes
  • Beans and legumes: kidney beans, green peas, chickpeas, lentils, split peas
  • Grains, nuts and seeds: oats, quinoa, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, chia seeds

Diet and Nissen Fundoplication

Deciding which foods to eat after hernia surgery isn't always simple. Some interventions lead to swelling of the esophagus — the tube your food travels through to get to your stomach.

One such procedure, called a Nissen fundoplication, is performed to repair a hiatal hernia, as described by the Medical University of South Carolina. This type of hernia occurs when the upper part of your stomach bulges through the diaphragm muscle in the middle of your abdomen.

A specialized post-surgery diet must be followed after Nissen fundoplication, as explained by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. For the first few meals after surgery, you will be on a clear liquid diet. Food choices could include juices, broths, Jell-O, plain coffee and flavored ice.

The next phase of your post-surgery diet is a full liquid diet. This includes all foods in the clear liquid diet, with the addition of the following:

  • Soy, almond, rice or cow's milk
  • Plain or vanilla yogurt
  • Sherbet
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Creamed vegetables (strained)
  • Cream of wheat
  • Nutritional drinks (except chocolate)
  • Vanilla pudding

Follow the Nissen Soft Diet

Within a few days after surgery, you will be progressed to the Nissen soft diet. This soft food diet provides specific recommendations, as well as a list of foods that should be avoided.

Approved foods are soft and easy to swallow — which is important for reducing your risk of choking due to a swollen esophagus. The Nissen soft diet is typically prescribed for at least six weeks following hernia surgery.

You can drink most beverages with the Nissen soft diet unless they are carbonated or contain chocolate or alcohol. Any types of foods that are highly seasoned should be avoided. Consume soft bread products, such as waffles, pancakes and plain crackers.

Avoid bread with hard crusts or crackers that contain seeds. Eat cooked cereals, such as grits or oatmeal, or choose cereals that soften quickly in milk, such as cornflakes. Stay away from course grains or cereals that contain nuts or dried fruits.

Eggs are a good source of protein on the Nissen soft diet. Eat them scrambled, poached or hard-boiled, rather than fried. And although they are healthy, fruits of any kind cannot be consumed in their whole form. Fruit juices and canned or cooked fruits are fine, except for pineapple. Dried fruits or fruits that contain seeds are prohibited.

Cottage cheese and smooth peanut butter provide protein in your soft diet. Do not consume hard cheeses that contain peppers or crunchy peanut butter. Potatoes, pasta and rice should be well-cooked for a softer texture.

Choose ground, minced or chopped meats that don't contain too much gristle. Include moist, cooked poultry and avoid high-fat meat products. Vegetables should be cooked to a soft consistency while avoiding the high gas-producers:

  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Sauerkraut
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Rutabagas
  • Cucumber
  • Green peppers

Other Dietary Tips

In addition to the types of foods you eat after surgery, it's important to consider how you eat them. Overfilling your stomach can increase postoperative pain. Have smaller meals more frequently (six to eight times a day) to help prevent excess stomach pressure. Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Remain upright for at least 30 minutes after your meals to keep the digestive system running smoothly.

Reduce your risk of excess gas by avoiding carbonated beverages for at least six weeks after surgery. Don't drink through a straw or chew gum — this increases your air intake, leading to gas in your stomach. Avoid alcohol, citrus and tomato-based drinks that can increase stomach acid production.

What about dessert? The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recommends eating your sweets at the end of your meal. Sugary foods move rapidly from the stomach to the intestines, and eating them on an empty stomach can lead to negative side effects, such as cramping, diarrhea, nausea, cold sweats, dizziness and weakness.

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