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Diet after whipple surgery

Updated April 17, 2017

If you have battled pancreatic cancer and are considering or have had Whipple surgery to remove the head of your pancreas and part of your bile duct, gallbladder and duodenum (and possibly part of your stomach), you may wonder about the content of your post-operative diet. While no specific foods are off-limits following your surgery, you should adhere to a liquid-heavy, low-fat diet that you monitor with your doctor and/or dietitian.

Liquids

During your surgery, your doctor may have inserted a temporary feeding tube into your digestive tract to help maintain and restore an optimal amount of nutrition. Following your surgery, your doctor will have you follow a liquid diet. You want to drink at least eight cups of fluids daily. If you do not drink enough fluids, you could experience fatigue, lightheadedness and nausea. To avoid feeling full, you should drink liquids one hour before or after eating.

When you work your way back to solid-food meals, you can take small sips of calorie- and nutrient-containing beverages during meals, which could help prevent abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and high gas production. You want to avoid alcoholic beverages. If you drink a lot of liquids while you eat, you may feel full quickly and therefore limit your food intake. You need to leave yourself room for calorie- and nutrient-rich solid foods.

Foods

Following the start of a liquid diet, you should consult your doctor about the proper time when you can return to a diet of solid foods. You should maintain a low-fat diet of 40 to 60 grams of fat daily, which you may need to adhere to on a long-term basis. Make sure to avoid high-fat, fried or greasy foods, and large meals.

Protein-rich foods that you can consume include chicken, cheese, eggs, fish and meat, You also should consume energy-providing foods like bread, cereals, pasta, potatoes and rice. To get a good intake of vitamins and minerals, you should eat fruits and vegetables daily.

You should have five to six small daily meals, with two to three hours separating them. If you have nutritious snacks in between smaller meals, you will absorb the food easier and not feel bloated or full. Furthermore, you will receive a decent level of energy and protein without overloading your digestive system.

After surgery, some of your favourite foods may not taste the same. It could take weeks for your normal sense of taste to return to normal, but you can help stimulate your taste buds by eating citrus-flavoured fruit like grapefruit and pineapple, or strong-flavoured crisps or snacks.

Keep in mind that the partial removal of your pancreas will impact your ability to digest and absorb food and nutrients, as the pancreas now provides fewer enzymes to aid the process. With all meals and snacks, you should take the proper amount of pancreatic enzyme replacement medication, which your doctor should prescribe.

Supplements

You will want to regain any weight that you lost as a result of Whipple surgery (if you were at a healthy weight prior to the procedure). You can look into using protein- and energy-dense oral supplement drinks containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), fructooligosaccharides (FOS) fibre and medium chain triglyceride (MCT oil).

While the aforementioned supplements might promote weight gain, they also could help increase your physical activity, quality of life and strength.

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About the Author

Jim Radenhausen is a freelancer who began writing professionally in 1998. A resident of Reeders, Pa., he spent over two years working at the "Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal." Radenhausen received his bachelor's degree in English/professional writing from Kutztown University in 1997.