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Nutrition & Surgery (Part 2)

Nutrition and surgery

In the follow up to part one of our Nutrition & Surgery focus (which you can read here), Director and Principal Dietitian Gillian Killiner, continues to discuss the key role that vitamins and minerals play in helping your body recover after surgery.

Nutrition and surgery

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is required for recovery from surgery. It is commonly known as the anti-infective vitamin. It is central to normal functioning of your immune system. Vitamin A is also needed to maintain the integrity and function of your skin and mucosal cells.

When you enter a hospital or clinic for surgery, many things will stress you. You will also be exposed to bacteria and viruses that your system is not used to. Infection will quickly use up your vitamin A stores. In this way, infection starts a vicious cycle, because not enough vitamin A is related to increased severity and likelihood of death from infectious disease. It is important to go into surgery with a good supply of vitamin A in your tissues. You will need to continue taking enough vitamin A to keep those levels high.

Vitamin A rich foods include: beef liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale, romaine lettuce, apricots, broccoli, butter, eggs, cantaloupe melon and red pepper.

Nutrition and surgery

Vitamin E

The main function of vitamin E in humans is as an antioxidant. Vitamin E has been shown to improve immune system functions that decline as people age. It helps increase blood flow. It does this by preventing blood clots and relaxing blood vessel walls.

Vitamin E rich foods include: sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, mango, avocado, butternut squash, broccoli, spinach, kiwi and tomatoes.

Nutrition and surgery

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin needed for normal calcium metabolism. You make vitamin D in your skin when you are in the sun without clothing or sunscreen. Vitamin D regulates your immune system function during times of stress. Adequate vitamin D levels are important for decreasing the risk of high blood pressure.

If you do not have enough vitamin D you will not absorb enough calcium. Then your body will steal calcium from your bones. This will increase your risk of osteoporosis and other health problems. Vitamin D deficiency causes muscle weakness and pain. Obesity increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency. Once vitamin D is made in the skin or ingested, it is deposited in body fat stores. Storage makes it less available especially to people with large amounts of body fat.

Vitamin D rich foods include: halibut, mackerel, salmon, rainbow trout, cod liver oil, sardines, tuna and eggs.

Nutrition and surgery


Iron is required for a number of vital functions, including growth, reproduction, healing, and immune function. You need the right amount of iron for hundreds of proteins and enzymes.

Iron rich foods include: spirulina, liver, beef, lentils, dark chocolate, spinach, sardines, black beans, pistachios and raisins.

Nutrition and surgery


You must have enough copper in your system for normal iron metabolism and red blood cell formation. Anemia is a sign of copper deficiency. Copper is required for you to be able to move iron to your bone marrow for red blood cell formation. Vitamin A deficiency will make iron deficiency anemia worse. Taking a combination of vitamin A and iron will protect you from anemia better than either iron or vitamin A alone.

Copper rich foods include: beef liver, shitake mushrooms, cashews, chickpeas, kale, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds, lentils and chia seeds.

Nutrition and surgery


Calcium is the most common mineral in the human body. About 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth. The other one percent is found in your blood and soft tissue. The functions of calcium are so vital to survival that the body will steal calcium from your bones. It does this to keep blood calcium levels normal when your calcium intake is too low.

Calcium plays many important roles. It is vital in controlling the constriction (closing) and relaxation (opening) of your blood vessels. It also aids proper nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and release of your hormones.

Calcium is a key factor for good recovery from any surgery involving your bones.

Only about 30 percent of the calcium in your food is actually absorbed in your digestive tract. You lose a certain amount of calcium in your urine every day. This depends on how much caffeine you drink. Too much or not enough protein in your diet will affect your calcium absorption and the strength of your bones.

Calcium rich foods include: kale, sardines, yoghurt, broccoli, watercress, cheese, bok choy and almonds.

Nutrition and surgery


Magnesium plays important roles in the structure and the function of the human body. Over 60 percent of all the magnesium in your body is found in your bones. About 27 percent is found in muscle, while six to seven percent is found in other cells. Magnesium is required by many other nutrients, like vitamin D and calcium, to function properly.

Proper wound healing after surgery requires the right amounts of calcium and magnesium in the fluid around the cells involved in the injury. If you are having surgery that involves your bones, magnesium is very important for the best outcome.

Magnesium rich foods include: spinach, dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, yoghurt and banana.

Nutrition and surgery


Zinc is an essential trace element for all forms of life. Zinc deficiency has recently been recognized by a number of experts as an important public health issue. A diet very high in grains like wheat can cause zinc deficiency.

You must have enough zinc to keep your immune system healthy. If you don’t have enough zinc, you are more likely to become ill from a number of different infectious bacteria or viruses.

Zinc rich foods include: lamb, pumpkin seeds, beef, chickpeas, cocoa powder, cashews, yoghurt, mushrooms, spinach and chicken.

Nutrition and surgery


Selenium is a trace element that is essential in small amounts to the work of many other nutrients. This includes vitamin C, vitamin E, copper, zinc, and iron. It aids wound healing by regulating cell growth.

Your thyroid gland needs selenium for normal function. Thyroid hormone tells your body how fast to function. If your cells work too slowly, your healing from wounds and your daily tissue repair will not go well.

People who are low in selenium may be more likely to become ill when stressed by difficult events like surgery or exposure to bacteria and viruses.

Selenium rich foods include: Brazil nuts, halibut, sardines, beef, turkey, beef liver, chicken and eggs.

Overall, good nutrition will help you make the best of your surgery. If you are unsure of how to structure your intake to optimise and prepare/recover regarding your operation, contact Gillian Killiner at 121 Dietitian. Gillian is an expert in nutrition for health, pre and post surgery. She or one of her colleagues will be happy to assess and advise you. You can avail of there services at our Belfast clinic or online worldwide.

Information checked & correct on 16th May 2018.

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