While a balanced diet is always important, your body needs a little extra help to recover properly after surgery. As a vegan, meeting your nutritional needs is different since many sources of protein that post-surgery diets recommend are from dairy or meat products. Creating balanced vegan meals to help you recover will be a snap once you lay out what should be in a meal to make it nutritional.
To promote new tissue growth, healing and to fight infection, you need to eat foods that are high in protein. For vegans this means nut butters, tofu, beans or lentils and nuts. Nut butter smoothies are loaded with protein and vitamins, and they can be a perfect breakfast or snack for those not quite ready for more solid foods. Here are some other ways to get protein into your diet:
- A great way to add some vitamins and minerals to your smoothie is to cram it full of raw spinach leaves -- all the benefits with no spinach flavor.
- Avocados are packed with good fat and protein.
- Tofu is a really versatile protein that is low in calories, and it’s essentially a blank canvas for flavor — it takes the flavor of what you cook it with. Try a simple tofu stir fry for a quick serving of veggies and protein.
Vitamin A is only found in animal products, but there’s no reason for vegans to worry — its precursor, beta-carotene, can be found in a wide variety of plant products. Since vitamin A deficiency can lead to reduced immunity, it’s important to make sure you get plenty before and after surgery. Here are some places to find this essential nutrient:
- Beta-carotene can be found in orange foods like sweet potatoes, carrots and mangoes.
- Cantaloupes, butternut squash and pumpkin are excellent sources of beta-carotene.
- Not all sources of beta-carotene are orange. Dark leafy greens like mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, kale and spinach are also a great way to get some of this extremely important vitamin.
- Eating foods high in carotenoids with some fat has been proven to improve absorption of synthesized vitamin A, so try eating a beta-carotene rich food with olive oil or nuts to increase how much of the vitamin A your body can absorb.
Vitamin C, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin,’ is critical to wound healing and bleeding prevention — making this vitamin absolutely vital to your recovery. To make sure you get vitamin C into your diet, try some of the following:
- Citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries and bell peppers are all loaded with vitamin C.
- Broccoli is also a great source of vitamin C, but your doctor may ask you to avoid foods that could make you gassy.
Vitamin E helps strengthen your immune system to fight infection after surgery. Free radicals can interfere with scar healing, so the antioxidants in vitamin E fight these free radicals and promote healing -- improving the appearance of scar tissue. Vitamin E can be applied topically to dry, tight skin to hydrate and reduce discomfort of healing skin.
- Almonds, sunflower seeds and wheat germ are all rich in vitamin E.
It can be difficult to find the energy to make a nutritious meal even when you haven’t just had surgery, so quick and easy meals will be your friend during your recovery process. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Breakfast should be pretty straight forward and easy. Some old fashioned oats with fresh fruits or nuts, sweetened with molasses — if necessary — is a great way to start your day. Throw in some ground flax seeds for a little extra nutrition.
- If oatmeal isn’t your thing, you can try whole wheat toast with nut butter and a side of fruit, or a tofu scramble loaded with fresh veggies.
- Lunch can include a baked potato or sweet potato, with a protein like tofu or garbanzo beans over steamed greens like spinach. Include some nuts for extra protein and a little fat.
- Dinner could be a simple stir fry or something more involved like a lentil soup. A veggie burger on whole grain bread with vegetables served over brown rice is a simple meal that can be put together pretty quickly, and it will provide you with the nutrients you need to heal.
While a vegan diet may seem like a challenge under certain circumstances like recovering from surgery, it's a lifestyle that can benefit you in the long run. Those who live vegan may be at a lower risk for diseases and certain chronic health problems, and it can provide you with a stronger immune system and an extra shot of energy to get through your days. Not only is it possible to quickly and safely recover from surgery as a vegan, but your diet might just give you an advantage.