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What foods prevent infection after surgery?

Recovering from surgery often means preventing and treating post-operative infections. While antibiotics play an important role, the foods you eat can also help your body prevent and fight infection during the healing process.

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers about foods that can help prevent infection after surgery:

  • Eat plenty of protein – Protein helps repair tissues and fight infection. Good options include eggs, chicken, fish, dairy, beans, nuts.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables high in vitamins C and A – These vitamins support immune function. Options include citrus fruits, red peppers, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes.
  • Choose whole grains – Fiber supports gut health and a healthy microbiome to prevent opportunistic infections.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids to keep your immune system working properly.
  • Avoid excess added sugars – Sugary foods may impair immune function.
  • Avoid raw sprouts – Raw sprouts can contain bacteria that could cause illness.

Why Nutrition Matters After Surgery

Good nutrition is crucial for healing after surgery. When the body undergoes the stress of surgery, its metabolic demands increase significantly. Proper nutrition provides the body with the energy, protein, fluids, and micronutrients it needs to prevent complications, fight infection, and speed recovery. Malnutrition before and after surgery is linked to higher rates of infection.

Surgery increases nutrient needs for:

  • Wound healing – Nutrients provide the building blocks of new tissue.
  • Immune function – Micronutrients support immune cells and proteins.
  • Fluid balance – Electrolytes and water are needed to maintain homeostasis.
  • Energy – The body requires more calories and protein for the increased metabolic demands.

Eating well before and after surgery can optimize nutrient status. It is important to follow specific dietary guidelines provided by your doctor both before and after surgery.

Protein Fights Infection

Consuming adequate protein is crucial to help fight infection and heal after surgery. Protein provides amino acids that are the building blocks for regenerating new tissue and muscle. Many immune cells and molecules also require protein including antibodies and enzymes that fight pathogens.

With increased protein needs after surgery, the recommended daily intake increases to:

  • 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day
  • For a 150 pound person, that equals 75-100 grams of protein daily

Getting adequate high quality protein supports the body’s ability to prevent and fight infection. The best sources are foods like:

  • Eggs
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean red meat
  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Beans, lentils, peas
  • Soy foods like tofu and edamame
  • Nuts and seeds

Fruits and Vegetables Provide Key Vitamins

Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and minerals that support immune function after surgery. Two of the most important are:

  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates white blood cell function and production of antibodies to enhance immune defenses against infection.
  • Vitamin A – This vitamin supports the body’s mucosal barriers and production of antibodies to fight infection.

Aim for 5-9 servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables daily. The best sources of vitamins C and A include:

Fruits Veggies
Oranges Red bell peppers
Grapefruit Broccoli
Strawberries Carrots
Cantaloupe Sweet potatoes
Kiwi Spinach
Tomatoes Winter squash

Choose Whole Grains

Whole grains like oats, brown rice, quinoa, and 100% whole wheat bread and pasta support gut health after surgery. The fiber in whole grains feeds the healthy bacteria in your microbiome. A diverse, well-nourished microbiome resists overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to infection.

Aim for at least 3 servings of whole grains daily as part of a high fiber diet. Some healthy options include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain toast
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole wheat pasta

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is critical after surgery to help prevent infections. Fluids help flush bacteria from the bladder and prevent urinary tract infections. Proper hydration also supports immune cells that require water to carry out their infection-fighting functions.

Aim to drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluids daily. Water is best. Other hydrating choices include:

  • Broth or soup
  • Decaf tea
  • Sparkling water
  • Diluted fruit juice
  • Low-fat milk

Avoid alcohol and sugary soda as these can impair immune defenses.

Limit Added Sugars

Consuming too much added sugar can weaken the immune system and make you more prone to infection after surgery. Sugary foods provide easily digestible energy, but offer little nutritional value.

Studies show that sugar intake may reduce neutrophil phagocytosis – the ability of these immune cells to engulf and destroy bacteria. Sugar also causes inflammation, which diverts the immune system’s resources.

Limit sources of added sugars like:

  • Candy
  • Soda
  • Cakes and cookies
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Fruit juice

Choose complex carbohydrates instead from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Avoid Raw Sprouts

Raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts may harbor Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli bacteria that can cause serious infection.

Although thoroughly cooked sprouts are safe, raw sprouts should be avoided for at least 1-2 months after surgery until the immune system recovers. Cooked vegetables provide a safer choice.

Sample Post-Surgery Diet Plan

Here is a sample 1-day diet plan focusing on infection-fighting foods:


  • Scrambled eggs with peppers and spinach
  • Oatmeal with blueberries and almonds
  • Glass of orange juice


  • Turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat bread
  • Carrot sticks
  • Yogurt


  • Baked chicken
  • Brown rice
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Glass of milk


  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Hummus and whole wheat pita
  • Cheese stick

Key Takeaways

Maximizing nutrition is crucial to help prevent and fight infection after surgery. Focus on getting plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fluids, and limiting added sugars. A healthy diet supports healing by providing optimal nourishment. Always follow your doctor’s specific nutritional guidelines before and after surgical procedures.


Proper nutrition can optimize your body’s ability to prevent and overcome infections during the post-operative period. Consuming foods high in protein, vitamins C and A, fiber, and fluids supports immune defenses and healing after surgery. Limit added sugars and avoid raw sprouts. Follow dietary guidance from your doctor for a safe recovery. With the right diet, you can nourish your body to help prevent complications and speed your return to health after surgery.