Why Protein Is Important After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric or weight loss surgery is an increasingly common choice for people in America who need to take drastic action to deal with weight problems. Surgery is a major step to take, and it's crucial that anyone who undergoes this type of procedure develops the right post-surgical diet and eating habits. Find out why protein is so important following bariatric surgery, and learn more about some of the ways you can boost this vital dietary ingredient.

Protein and the human body

Proteins are an essential part of any healthy, balanced diet, and everybody relies on an adequate intake of these chemicals. In fact, these vital ingredients carry out several important roles. You need proteins to:

  • Repair and maintain your body. Protein is a vital building block for your hair, skin, eyes and muscles.
  • Give you energy.
  • Create vital hormones in your body, such as secretin, which assists the digestive process.
  • Speed up chemical reactions in the body.
  • Create antibodies that help your body's immune system fight off infection.

Current dietary guidelines recommend that a healthy person should consume a diet that is between 10 and 35 percent protein. Following bariatric surgery, patients should take particular care to maintain the right amount of protein in their diet.

Protein following surgery

Bariatric surgery is a major, invasive procedure. When you undergo this type of surgery, it will be several weeks before you can resume normal activities, and the changes to your body mean that you must change your lifestyle forever. In the weeks following your surgery, the right diet is vital to the healing process, and protein plays an important role in this process.

Following bariatric surgery, experts recommend that you consume 60-100g of protein every day, depending on your overall health, the type of surgery and your activity levels. During and after this healing period, your body needs a constant supply of protein. Initially, the protein supports healing, but your body then needs the protein to maintain muscle mass as your body starts to lose fat.

Without the right level of added protein, your body will take protein from your muscles. In turn, this can make it difficult to heal. You may also become weak and frail. Some patients are at higher risk than others. For example, if your gastric bypass takes place far down in the intestines, you're more likely to suffer a protein deficiency, as the body will find it harder to absorb the nutrients it needs.

Boosting protein in your diet

Your medical team will give you advice about how to manage your diet, and you should follow their instructions carefully. Fortunately, there are plenty of sources of protein-rich food, so you shouldn't find it difficult to maintain this part of your diet.

How you consume protein will vary according to the time elapsed since your surgery. For the first 1 to 7 days following surgery, your doctor will only allow clear liquids, which can include water and fat-free milk (a source of protein.) During weeks two and three, your doctor will allow you to progress to pureed foods. Protein sources here can include protein shakes, egg whites and fat-free cottage cheese.

As you progress to soft foods in weeks 4 and 5, your choices will increase. Protein-rich foods can now include chicken, turkey, fish and tofu. Finally, after 6 weeks, you can return to solid foods, which can include other sources of protein, including lean beef. That aside, dieticians will continue to recommend against pork and steak that needs a lot of chewing and is harder to digest. Ground meats are generally better.

Dieticians recommend that you eat the protein in your meal first, followed by vegetables and then carbohydrates. This prioritization makes sure you get the vital ingredients first. If you run out of appetite, you will then leave the food types that aren't so vital for you.

Protein is a vital part of any diet following bariatric surgery. Talk to a doctor or visit a weight loss clinic for more advice.

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