When you're about to have surgery, your diet may be the furthest thing from your mind. But what you eat before your procedure may help support your recovery. Indeed, your last meal before surgery should include foods filled with nutrients that aid healing.
Here's a breakdown of the best foods to eat before surgery, which foods to avoid and a sample menu to try the day before your procedure.
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The best pre-surgery diet for you can vary based on your procedure and underlying health concerns. Talk to your doctor to determine what you should and should not eat the day before surgery.
Why You Should Follow a Pre-Surgery Diet
It's estimated that as many as 50 percent of hospitalized patients are malnourished, according to the National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists (NACNS). In fact, about one out of every three patients who enter a hospital are already at a nutritional disadvantage.
Malnutrition may worsen throughout the course of a patient's stay due to increased needs related to their disease, compounded by the potential difficulty of eating enough after surgery. Malnourished patients are more likely to develop infections, lose precious muscle mass and have longer hospital stays, per the NACNS.
Luckily, fueling with the best things to eat before surgery in the several weeks leading up to your procedure may help you avoid some of these complications and set you up for the smoothest healing process possible.
It's also important to note that you'll likely have to follow a clear liquid diet starting about eight hours before your hospital arrival time (more on that later), according to UCLA Health. This is an important part of any light diet before surgery because your stomach will need to be empty before the procedure.
Best Foods to Eat Before Surgery
It's clear that your diet before surgery can help set you up for a successful recovery. Here are the best foods to eat before surgery in the weeks and days leading up to your procedure, along with what to eat the night before surgery once you start to fast.
1. Lean Protein
Protein is a key part of any pre-surgery diet, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Protein is often referred to as the building block of life because it's found in every cell, tissue and organ in your body, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It also supports immune health, and the amino acids from protein-rich foods help make new blood and tissue.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim to eat 46 to 56 grams of protein per day — including the days leading up to your procedure. The best protein to eat before surgery are lean proteins like fish, chicken and eggs.
2. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are great light foods to eat before surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They're full of vitamins and minerals that support your immune system, including vitamins A, B, C and E, per the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
You should aim to eat three to five servings of fruit per day in the weeks leading up to your procedure (one medium fruit counts as one serving size).
If your goal is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet before surgery, fruits and vegetables can help, per the Cleveland Clinic. Some notably anti-inflammatory foods are:
- Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli
Can I Eat Avocado Before Surgery?
Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, avocados are a nutritious addition to your diet for surgery. They're a rich source of nutritious fat, which is an important component of your pre-surgery meals, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
3. Whole Grains
Whole grains also make the list of what to eat before a surgery, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They're rich in B vitamins, which can support your immune system during your recovery.
Eat six to 11 servings of grains per day in the weeks prior to your procedure. The best diet before surgery can include whole grains like:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Whole-wheat crackers
4. Clear Liquids
Typically, you can eat solid foods up until the day before your surgery.
But why shouldn't you eat right before surgery? Well, it's important to undergo your procedure with an empty stomach, which is why most doctors will have you stop eating solid foods about eight hours before your hospital arrival time, according to UCLA Health.
Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions based on your procedure and pre-surgical needs. But in general, you'll follow a clear liquid diet up until about two hours before you arrive at the hospital.
Per UCLA Health, a clear liquid diet includes the following drinks:
- Clear fruit juices like apple and white cranberry juice
- Plain tea or black coffee (without milk or creamer)
- Clear, electrolyte drinks like Pedialyte, Gatorade or Powerade
- Ensure Clear or Boost Breeze (just avoid the milkshake varieties)
What Is a Light Breakfast Before Surgery?
Typically, you won't eat solid foods on the morning of your surgery because you'll already be in the eight-hour fasting window where you can only drink clear liquids, per UCLA Health. As a result, you should skip having a light meal right before surgery. Instead, your last meal before surgery should happen the night before.
Foods to Avoid Before Surgery
Now you know what to eat before surgery. But on the flip side, what foods should be avoided before surgery?
Here's a list of what not to eat before surgery to help you set yourself up for success:
1. Red Meat
While lean proteins are among the recommended foods to eat before surgery, not all proteins are ideal. Red or processed meats — like beef, bacon and sausage — are on the list of foods to avoid before surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
These meats are harder for your body to break down, which could elevate inflammation going into your procedure.
2. Heavily Processed Foods
Highly processed snacks like sugary cereals, baked goods and chips are also among the foods to avoid before surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
That's because processed foods are often more difficult to digest, and can increase inflammation before your procedure.
Some nutritional supplements can interfere with blood clotting and may complicate your surgery, per the Cleveland Clinic.
So if you're taking any nutrition supplements, including vitamin or herbal products, be sure to let your surgeon know. They can tell you if it's best to avoid supplements before surgery.
Are There Blood-Thinning Foods to Avoid Before Surgery?
While preparing you for surgery, your doctor likely advised you not to take blood-thinning medicine like aspirin, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
While it's important to avoid these blood-thinning medications (or supplements) for as long as your doctor recommends, there's no evidence to suggest that you should stop eating certain foods due to their blood-thinning properties.
4. Non-Clear Liquids
While pulpy juices, smoothies and dairy products like milk and yogurt are typically fine to eat in the weeks before your procedure, you'll have to avoid them while you follow a clear liquid diet in the hours before you head to the hospital, per UCLA Health.
Remember, the reason why you aren't supposed to eat before surgery is because your stomach needs to be empty in order to safely undergo your procedure. As a result, non-clear liquids are among the foods not to eat before surgery because they may contain pulp, seeds or other ingredients that fill your stomach.
What to Eat the Night Before Surgery
Your doctor may recommend that you eat a light meal the night before surgery, before you begin following a clear liquid diet. But what is considered a light meal before surgery, exactly?
According to University of Washington Medicine, the best foods to eat the night before surgery are nutritious, minimally processed and lower-fat foods that are easy on your digestive system.
Here are some examples of what to eat the day before surgery:
- Salmon with steamed broccoli
- Baked potato
- Apple with peanut butter
- Eggs on toast
If you're still not sure what to eat for your last meal before surgery, ask your doctor for specific recommendations. And remember, your best meal before surgery might vary based on the type of procedure and your unique health concerns.
What to Eat the Day Before Laparoscopic Surgery
If your upcoming procedure is a laparoscopic surgery, you can generally still follow the same recommendations for your pre-surgery diet.
- National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: "Malnutrition in Hospitalized Adult Patients"
- World Health Organization: "Malnutrition"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Mayo Clinic: "Preparing for surgery?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Best Ways to Prepare Yourself for Surgery"
- Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: "Nutrition and Surgery Guidelines"
- UCLA Health: "When to Stop Eating and Drinking"
- University of Washington Medicine: "Healthy Eating Before Your Surgery or Procedure"
- MedlinePlus; Aspirin; March 16, 2011
- MedlinePlus: Blood Thinners
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.