Women's Heart Advisor July 2011 Issue

Know What to Eat After Heart Surgery

Even if you have no appetite, your body is hungry for protein.

You have just undergone stenting or bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass grafting, or CABG) to increase blood flow to your heart muscle and prevent a first or second heart attack. Although you are looking forward to feeling better, your body is exhausted. To speed your recovery, eat protein.

"Surgery of any kind increases the need for protein. Itís very important in the healing process," says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD.

After a major surgical procedure such as CABG, protein is needed to repair your heart, your cracked breastbone and your stitched skin. Protein contains amino acids, which play a key role in repairing and rebuilding muscle and bone.

Think Quality, Not Quantity

"When people think of protein, they think of steak. But if you have heart disease, a big, juicy steak is not the wisest choice," says Ohlson. "You need to be judicious, just like you should have been before surgery. You donít want to start adding foods with the potential to create plaque deposits."

Ohlson recommends healthy sources of protein, such as skinless chicken breasts, fish, chickpeas and beans. Fish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation in the coronary arteries and lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Vegetarian sources of protein contain cholesterol-lowering fiber.

Beef is not off the menu, but she recommends you choose your beef wisely and eat it rarely. "Make sure it is grass-fed," she adds.

Cattle that have been raised on grass produce beef that is lower in fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is not the same as grass-finished beef. Cattle raised on grain and allow to graze for a month or two before slaughter are higher in fat and lower in omega-3s than grass-fed beef.

No Appetite?

Lack of appetite after CABG is normal. If the thought of eating a protein-rich meal isówellónauseating, Ohlson recommends you reintroduce food slowly by eating frequent small meals.

"Start with low-fat cottage cheese and fruit or a whey protein smoothie. I like to mix powdered protein with almond milk and throw in some frozen strawberries and blueberries," she says. "In no time at all, your appetite should be back to normal."