Recommended Diets After Heart Surgery: Healthy Eating for Heart Surgery Patients

Recommended Diets After Heart Surgery: Healthy Eating for Heart Surgery Patients
Page content

Calorie Control

One of the major considerations for diets after heart surgery is net calorie intake. It is essential to regulate the total calorie intake of recovering patients to increase, decrease, or maintain the body weight as necessary.

Many heart surgery patients tend to lose weight due to lack of appetite and mild nausea. This results in deprivation of adequate nutrients, retarding recovery and healing. In such cases, the net calorie intake needs to be increased, and one way to do so is by eating smaller but more frequent meals.

Drug therapy related to heart surgery might make the patient hungry. This, and the need to ensure adequate supply of nutrients to facilitate the natural healing process of the body requires the heart surgery patient to eat more. Eating more, however, raises the danger of more work for the heart and higher Triglycerides (fat) levels in the blood stream. High triglycerides in the blood-stream thickens the blood vessels, leading to reduced flow of blood supply to the heart, resulting in less oxygen, casing heart cells to die.

The solution to this problem is a controlled diet.

Sodium and Sugar Control

Sodium (Na+) restriction is a crucial component of diet after heart surgery. Sodium or dietary salt raises blood pressure, increases the mass of the left ventricle, thickens and stiffens conduit arteries, and thickens and narrows resistance arteries, including the coronary and renal arteries. All these tend to increase the possibility of strokes and the severity of cardiac failure. For this reason, dieticians recommend a 2,000 mg low-sodium diet for heart surgery patients.

Some of the most common foods high in sodium include ham, bacon, frankfurters, sausages, dried beef, canned fish, canned meat, sardines, pepperoni, smoked salmon, caviar, cheese, peanut butter, and frozen TV dinners. Vegetables high in sodium include vegetables prepared in brine, olives, pickles, vegetables packed with sauces or seasonings, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and frozen peas. Other foods high in sodium include bread and rolls with salt toppings, corn chips, potato chips, salted pretzels, salted popcorn, and other salted snack foods, as are most liquid foods such as diet sodas, canned and instant soups, salted mixed vegetable juice, tomato juice and commercially prepared stews.

Patients also need to restrict their sugar intake considerably. Sugar raises insulin level, inhibiting the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses the immune system. Insulin also promotes the storage of fat, which cause elevated triglyceride levels. It is recommended to avoid all products with high doses of sucrose, including high fructose corn syrup, sweets, and ice cream.

Diet after heart surgery, including diet after open heart surgery and diet after bypass surgery should be free from fat, sodium and sugar, and should include fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, onions, garlic, oatmeal, turkey breasts, and whole wheat breads. It is important to rotate the menu options on a daily and weekly basis to provide variety and balance to the diet.

Following a healthy eating plan after heart surgery is as important, if not more important than rest, stress free life and medications.

This article is not intended as medical advice. You should consult your doctor before finalizing your dietary plans.


  1. University of South Carolina Keck School of Medicine. “A patient’s guide to heart surgery.” Retrieved from on February 23, 2010.
  2. H E de Wardener and G A MacGregor (2002). Harmful effects of dietary salt in addition to hypertension . Journal of Human Hypertension. 16, 213- 223.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons