To say that protein is important in the post-op diet is an understatement: getting enough protein is absolutely vital and can be very challenging. Proteins control the behaviour of cells, which make up our organs and body structure, from head to toe. To avoid going into the science of how proteins are synthesised in the body, which you can read here, we can simply say that proteins come in different forms and perform multiple functions. They mobilise and regulate all body functions, form the structure of our cells and hold up the immune system. This is why it is crucial for bariatric patients to prioritise their intake of protein in the post-op diet.
The risk of protein deficiency for bariatric patients is very high. The rapid weight loss that follows surgery is the result of severely restricted calorie intake which includes the malabsorption of essential proteins. For many patients it is a daily struggle to consume the recommended daily quota of at least 60g of protein to avoid becoming deficient.
Types of proteins and their functions
DNA - at the base level - carries the genetic information of a cell and consists of thousands of genes. Each gene serves as a recipe on how to build a protein molecule.
Enzymes are the proteins which break down food for absorption. They regulate the absorption of nutrients through cell walls and the removal of waste from the body. Enzymes are essential for growth, development, movement and reproduction. Most enzymes need vitamins and minerals to function.
Haemoglobin is the protein which carries oxygen around your body. It needs the help of iron to perform this important task.
Myoglobin & elastin are the two main proteins that make up our muscle fibres.
Bone consists mainly of protein combined with the minerals calcium, magnesium and phosphate.
Hormones send chemical messages between nerve cells and regulate the metabolism.
Antibodies circulate in the blood to protect us against viruses.
Keratin is responsible for forming hair and nail tissue.
The best source of protein for bariatric patients comes directly from food. Because protein is needed for cell repair after surgery, it is vital to the healing process to consume no less than 60 grams everyday. However, bariatric patients with a strictly limited stomach capacity can seriously struggle to eat 60 grams of protein everyday. This is why we often depend on protein drinks to boost our daily intake to a healthy quantity. Bariatric dietitians are in agreement that as soon as the 8 week post-op recovery period is over we should look to source protein from natural products such as meat, fish and dairy. But it’s very hard, even after the recovery period. Rather than become protein deficient it makes sense to continue using protein supplements for as long as necessary. When it comes to meal planning the higher the protein count in a single food item the better. So we aim to incorporate around 30 grams of protein per serving at meal times.
Best high protein foods for a healthy post-op diet
Seafood is an excellent source of protein and (most) fish is low in fat. Of all the swimmers, salmon contains the most fat but it's of the healthy omega-3 kind.
Yellowfin Tuna 25g of protein per 85g serving
Octopus 25g of protein per 85g serving
Anchovies 24g of protein per 85g serving
Halibut 23g of protein per 85g serving
Red Salmon 23g of protein per 85g serving
Tilapia 21g of protein per 85g serving
Sardines 21g of protein per 85 serving
Chicken Breast 24g of protein per 85g serving
Turkey Breast 24g of protein per 85g serving
Roasted Turkey and Chicken Breast 18g of protein per 85g serving
Cottage cheese 14g of protein per 1/2-cup serving
Swiss cheese 8g of protein per 28g serving
Greek Yoghurt 23g of protein per 8-oz serving
Arla Protein Yoghurt 20g of protein per 200g serving
Best Plant-Based Foods
Mixed nuts 6g of protein per 58g serving
Edamame 8g of protein per 64g serving
Green peas 7g of protein per 150g serving
Wheat Germ 6g of protein per 28g serving
Quinoa 8g of protein per 185g serving
Dried Lentils 13g of protein per 32g serving.
Chia seeds 16.5g of protein per 100g serving.