What to Know About Nutrition in the Colorectal Cancer Journey

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The most common surgery for colorectal cancer is called a colon resection (colectomy). In this type of surgery, the surgeon removes part of the colon and then joins the remaining parts back together. Other types of surgery may include a partial colectomy or right colectomy (ileocolectomy).

Regardless of surgery type, nutrition and diet play a very important role in the preparation for the surgery and recovery after the surgery.

Listed below are tips and guidelines that will help you with your diet and nutrition before and after your colectomy:

  • Follow your surgeon’s instructions very carefully before your surgery. Your surgeon will most likely give you very specific instructions to follow in the days leading up to your surgery. It is very important to follow these to minimize any complications and to allow your surgeon to do the best job possible.
  • Give your colon adequate time to heal and transition slowly back to a regular diet. While you are in the hospital, your care team will help you with your diet. If you are still having difficulty tolerating food when you are discharged from the hospital, contact your healthcare provider.
  • Food tolerance after surgery is not “one size fits all.” Be patient with yourself. During this time, introduce foods slowly, one at a time and in small portions. Wait one to two hours after trying a new food to see how your body digests it and reacts. Eating too much and too many foods all at once will make it difficult to tell whether certain foods are problematic.
  • Try to establish regular eating habits and strive for four to six small meals per day.Smaller portions of food are easier on the digestive system and your body may also absorb nutrients more readily from smaller portions.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Staying well-hydrated will help in your recovery process. Aim for drinking eight to 10 glasses of liquid per day. Water is preferred, but caffeine-free tea, broth and other liquids will also suffice.

If you are on a clear liquid diet, you may have juice (without pulp), broth, tea, soft drinks, gelatin, fruit ice, popsicles and water. If you are on a full liquids diet, you may have all aforementioned clear liquids, plus cream soup, milk, milkshakes, nutrition supplements, pudding, custard, ice cream and cooked hot cereals such as oatmeal, grits or cream cereals. Keep in mind that dairy products may cause nausea, so avoid them if necessary.

If you are not on a clear or full liquid diet and are able to eat solid foods, you should still take precautions with what you eat. Try to avoid all whole grain breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and popcorn. Instead choose white bread, rice cereals, white rice and regular pasta.

Other foods to avoid before and after your colectomy:

  • Raw vegetables
  • Pineapples
  • Prunes or prune juice
  • Dried fruit
  • Jam and marmalade
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunky peanut butter (creamy peanut butter is OK)
  • Tough meats
  • Fried foods
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausage
  • Strongly flavored cheeses
  • Coconut
  • Raisins

During your recovery process, be sure to consult with your nurse navigator for your specific nutritional needs.

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