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What is a Heart Surgery Diet?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated May 17, 2024
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A heart surgery diet is a type of nutrition plan designed to help individuals recover after undergoing surgical procedures involving the heart. These diets usually restrict sodium intake and attempt to lower ingestion of fats and processed carbohydrates. A heart surgery diet is usually high in natural fibers and low in cholesterol. In some instances, if weight loss is necessary, these diets can also restrict overall calorie consumption.

The overall health of a patient following surgery often influences his dietary requirements. Conditions such as diabetes necessitate restriction of refined sugars and carbohydrates. Water retention is often a problem both before and after surgery, so most heart surgery diets restrict salt and sodium. Sodium restriction usually goes beyond eliminating or reducing salt intake. Many frozen and processed foods use sodium in the preservation process, so fresh foods are a better choice.

After surgery, a nutritionist typically designs a heart surgery diet intended specifically for the patient. Though the diets can differ greatly in terms of calorie consumption, they typically include fresh fruits and vegetables, high fiber breads and snacks, and lean meats such as turkey and fish. Postoperative patients often take medications that can cause constipation, which is why fiber can be such an essential component of postoperative nutrition.

In addition to constipation, some postoperative medications may also cause nausea. For this reason, a heart surgery diet often encourages eating habits that may help prevent stomach upset. Rather than eating three large meals per day, a heart surgery diet often recommends eating several small or mid-size meals throughout the entire day. The idea is that smaller meals help prevent the stomach from becoming over full, which may help prevent nausea.

Many fad diets claim to be the result of medically recommended heart surgery diets, and one of the most popular is a diet called the Sacred Heart Diet. This diet consists almost entirely of soup, and advocates claim that nutritionists at Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital give the diet to heart patients as a way of losing weight prior to surgery. This diet is supposed to generate a relatively large amount of weight loss in only seven days. Despite the claims that the diet is doctor-recommended, most medical professionals consider the diet too calorie restrictive and too low in fiber. Those who will be undergoing heart surgery should talk to their physicians about their nutrition needs both before and after surgery.

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