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A Patient's Guide to Heart Surgery

Diet and Nutrition

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Healthy Diet and Nutrition

Along with exercise, eating healthy will speed up your recovery and healing. If your appetite is poor, try to eat smaller but more frequent meals.

Depending on your condition, your doctor or dietician may put you on a special diet. For example, patients with heart failure must follow a 2,000 mg low-sodium diet. Diabetic patients must follow a low-sugar, low-fat diet.

Tips to healthy eating:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods.
  • Choose foods low in fat and cholesterol.
  • Eat less salt or sodium.
  • Cut back on sugar and sweets.
  • Eat more carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, vegetables) and fiber ("roughage").
  • Limit portion sizes.

Poor Appetite and Nausea

Many patients lose weight in the postoperative period. They complain of lack of appetite and mild nausea. Certain medications such as pain pills may cause nausea. Try eating small frequent amounts of food, and take medications on a full stomach unless otherwise directed. If you continue to experience nausea or lack of appetite, call your primary physician.

Constipation

Constipation is due to inactivity, limited fluid intake and lack of dietary fiber. It is aggravated by medications such as pain pills and iron. Eating plenty of fiber and fresh fruits, drinking 6-8 glasses of water daily and using your prescribed stool softener (Colace) as instructed can usually relieve constipation. If this does not work, Milk of Magnesia or Dulcolax may be helpful. Avoid Milk of Magnesia if you have kidney problems.

Caloric Restriction

Your total calories may be changed to increase, decrease, or maintain your weight as necessary. Being overweight increases the work of the heart. Your drug therapy may cause you to be hungry, you may eat more, and you may then gain weight. It is, therefore, very important that you pay attention to the total amount of food you take in. In addition to adding to the work of your heart, being overweight is associated with high levels of Triglycerides (fats) in the blood stream. Having a lot of fats in your blood increases the possibility of having the blood vessels of your heart become thickened. This will be described in more detail in the section on cholesterol and fats that follows.

Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Restriction

Cholesterol is a necessary fatty substance found in the body and many animal foods. Fats are concentrated sources of energy which occur in three forms: polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated. People who have large amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats in their blood are at increased risk of having thickening of their blood vessels throughout their bodies. This is because saturated fats and cholesterol in your blood will gather along the walls of your blood vessels causing them to narrow. If this narrowing becomes severe in the blood vessels of your heart, the blood supply to your heart will not get enough oxygen, and the cells of your heart will die. This is called "Coronary Artery Disease."

In addition to your diet, your medications may also increase the level of fats in your blood. Thus, in order to prevent coronary artery disease, your overall fat intake must be restricted after surgery. Generally, your overall fat intake should not be more than 30% of your total calories each day. Increasing the proportion of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in your diet and decreasing your total saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your total fat intake will actually help to lower cholesterol and saturated fat levels in your blood. The aim of this diet is to keep the levels of fats in your blood within normal limits.

Foods high in cholesterol & saturated fats

  • Animal products
    Liver and organ meats, luncheon meats like liverwurst & salami, other meats, egg yolks, whole milk, butter, cream, and whole milk cheeses.
  • Vegetables high in saturated fats
    Coconut, palm, and cocoa.
  • Other
    Fried foods.

Note
Instead of frying your foods, try to bake, boil, or steam when preparing foods.

Foods high in monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats

  • Meats and other protein foods
    Lean meats, low fat dairy products, and fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, bluefish).
  • Vegetable fats
    Olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, and tub margarine.

Concentrated Carbohydrate Restrictions

You may be asked to cut down on the amount of sugar and concentrated sweets in your diet as well. Carbohydrates not only add to calories, but large amounts may contribute to an increase in the Triglycerides on the blood.

Fluid and Sodium Restriction

Salt is made up of two minerals - Sodium (Na+) and Chloride (C). It is the sodium portion of salt that we are concerned with in your diet. Sodium must be restricted in your diet because it causes your body to hold fluids.

You must also control your sodium and fluid intake since Prednisone causes your body to hold both of these. The result of holding fluid and sodium is that extra fluid builds up in your veins and arteries. To avoid this fluid and sodium build up, you should cut down on both.

To cut down on fluids, choose solid foods instead of liquids; for example, eat fruit instead of drinking juice. To cut down on salt, your doctor may prescribe a sodium-restricted diet for you. Your diet order may read: "No added Salt" or 3 to 4 gram Na+ diet. The doctor may also prescribe a water pill to help get the sodium and fluid out of your system.

Foods High in Sodium (Na+) Content

  • Meat and Other Protein Foods
    Ham, canadian bacon, bacon, luncheon meats, frankfurters, sausages, scrapple, pepperoni, dried beef, chipped beef, corned beef, canned meats, pastrami, canned fish, sardines, herring, lox, anchovies, smoked salmon, caviar, cheese, regular peanut butter, and frozen TV dinners.
  • Vegetables
    Sauerkraut or other vegetables prepared in brine, olives, pickles, relish, vegetables packed with sauces or seasonings, salted mixed vegetable juice (V-8), regular tomato juice, regular spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce or tomato paste, frozen peas, and lima beans.
  • Breads & Cereals
    Bread and rolls with salt toppings, corn chips, potato chips, salted pretzels, salted popcorn, and other salted snack foods.
  • Fats
    Bacon fat, salt pork, olives, salted nuts, party spreads and dips.
  • Soups
    Canned broth soups, commercially prepared stews, bouillon cubes, and instant or dried soups.
  • Other
    Be careful of monosodium glutamate (MSG) used in Chinese food. When you order Chinese food, you can request that it be prepared without MSG.

Note
You should check with your doctor or dietician before using salt or salt substitutes.

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