Having a Joint Replacement? Eat These Foods Before Surgery.

Food is pleasure. Food is fun. Food is fuel. What we eat on a day to day basis often becomes so intertwined with our habits, lifestyle and likes or dislikes that it becomes difficult to think of food as fuel. However, in the process of healing the body—whether it be from injury, arthritis or surgery—it’s important to think of food as more than just something you eat. Like medicine, food has very real healing properties that can make recovery faster, easier, and even safer.

With an elective surgery like a hip replacement or knee replacement, you have an amazing opportunity to use PreHab to get your health in check before putting your body through additional stress. Mitigating current symptoms and lessening the risks and complications of surgery can be done by giving yourself the nutrients you need to perform at a higher level. Consuming foods rich in protein, antioxidants, and vitamins such C and D will kick your body into a higher gear.

A diet that boosts your immune system, promotes healing, is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties will not just prepare you for surgery, but shows that recovery begins before surgery.

Foods That Heal Your Body Before Surgery

Foods that are packed with vitamins and nutrients give our body what it needs to fight against illness, infection, disease and more. Foods that are lacking in nutritional value are often called “empty-calories”, meaning they offer your body little value in exchange for their consumption. Eating a colorful balanced diet is key when fighting your way back to better health and preparing for a hip or knee replacement.

Note: Always consult your healthcare practitioner before drastically changing your diet or starting a new supplement regime. Consult your doctor as your surgery date nears (1-2 weeks out) as changes will likely need to be made to your PreHab pre-surgical diet.

Protein

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When it comes to wound healing and the promotion of recovery, the body needs a surplus of protein. Amino acids are the fundamental make-up of protein and serve a wide array of bodily and structural functions. Proteins give us antibodies to keep our immune system in check and to regenerate tissue and heal wounds. Structurally, our body uses protein as building blocks for muscle, collagen, elastin, and keratin. Collagen is the main component in many tissues such as skin, tendon, muscle, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels, bone and teeth.

Foods Naturally Rich in Protein

  • A lot of recognized sources of protein are in animal products such as beef steak, ground beef, pork chops, chicken breast and eggs
  • Tofu and soy
  • Beans (black beans are low in sodium and saturated fat)
  • Milk, cottage cheese and yogurt (especially greek).
  • Seeds and nuts like almonds, walnuts, hemp hearts and peanut butter
  • Protein-rich nutritional drinks or bars (we recommend Ensure and love Health Warrior Superfood protein bars which are low in sugar and vegetarian)

Tip: Whey or other protein can be blended into a smoothie with other vitamin-rich nutrients. Think of a fruit and veggie smoothie with added protein as killing a whole bunch o’ birds at the same time.

Calcium and Vitamin D

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When you think of calcium think bone strength and repair. As the Wound Repair and Regeneration Journal cites, when it comes to wound repair “calcium is predominantly involved in the hemostatic phase (the stopping of bleeding),” but is also integral in “cell migration and regeneration patterns in later stages of healing”. Science Daily’s findings add to the healing powers of calcium, stating that it’s linked to “the very first step in repairing damaged tissue.”

In order to reap the rewards of bone health from calcium, you need supportive nutrients like vitamin D (or even vitamin K and Magnesium among others). Calcium and Vitamin D are like Sonny and Cher or peanut butter and jelly—they just go together and become a more powerful force when combined. Holistic nutritionist, Melissa McKeown illustrates, “Think of building bones like baking a cake. You can’t use just flour to make a cake. It needs other ingredients.” McMeowan explains, “if you try to build bone with calcium alone, calcium will end up storing itself in soft tissues such as the brain, heart, and blood vessels. Supportive nutrients put the calcium in its place and keep it there.”

Foods Rich in Both Calcium and Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D fortified yogurt and cheese
  • Whole grain fortified cereals
  • Orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • Salmon, sardines or trout.

Mostly Calcium:

  • Non-fortified dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Dark greens like spinach, collards, kale and okra
  • Soybeans and soy milk

Mostly Vitamin D:

  • Fatty, oily fish like smoked salmon
  • Portabello mushrooms
  • Tofu
  • Hard-boiled eggs

Vitamin C and Iron

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Vitamin C is a vitamin that your body cannot make on it’s own. The only way to give your body access to this super-healing antioxidant is by way of consumption. Like protein, vitamin C is a requirement for the body to build or rebuild collagen. Healing in its most basic form is the rebuilding of collagen. Therefore, Vitamin C is needed to repair and grow tissue, and is used by the body to make skin, blood vessels, ligaments, bones, teeth and so forth.

In addition to being a standalone superhero, vitamin C enhances the absorption of its pal, iron. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of nonheme/plant-based iron by changing it into “ferric iron” which can be absorbed in the small intestine. Once properly absorbed, iron boosts pre-operative red blood cell levels, helps with the carrying of oxygen throughout the blood, offers immunity, and increases energy levels. The feeling of having more energy helps those injured or with decreased mobility exercise their way through key PreHab exercises that speeds up recovery.

After surgery, reaching the recommended iron level is linked to a reduced risk of postoperative anemia and blood transfusions.

Foods Rich in Vitamin C and Iron

Vitamin C

  • Citrus fruits
  • Red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes or tomato juice, peppers and strawberries
  • Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage

Iron

  • Red meat like liver, beef and lamb
  • Seafoods like mussels or oysters
  • Green vegetables like spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, peas and edamame
  • Beans and lentils: kidney beans, pinto beans and garbanzo beans
  • Seeds and nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios and sunflower seeds
  • Blackstrap molasses

Tips: Just one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses represents about 19% of most adult’s recommended daily iron intake. It is also a diabetic-friendly sugar substitute.

Other Vitamins, Nutrients and Healing Foods for Surgery

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in improving immune function as well as cell regeneration and wound healing. Zinc is especially great when it comes to healing dermal tissue and skin. Foods high in zinc: cooked oysters contain more zinc than any food, followed by beef, lamb, toasted wheat germ, spinach, toasted pumpkin seeds, cashews, chocolate and so forth.

Probiotics

It’s been estimated that 75-80% of natural immunity resides in our gut. Probiotics are great for gut health and can counteract the effects of any post or pre-op antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bad bacteria, but they can also kill the good bacteria that live in our guts and aid in digestion. Foods high in probiotic: yogurt, fermented vinegars, sauerkraut, kimchee fermented beverages, kombucha.

Bone Broth

“Bone broths are incredibly healing. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals in a simple, easy to digest form,” said McKeown. These broths contain collagen, gelatin, and glycine which collectively promote repair and healing, improve digestion and prevent muscle breakdown.


Choosing foods that are rich in nutrients, vitamins and other healing or repairing agents will help get you on the road to recovery. By eating a balanced diet that incorporates a hitlist of the most impactful foods, you’ll not only prep your body for impending surgical stress, but can actually start to feel better before an invasive fix. Adjusting your thinking to see food as medicine will help you make better choices and concoct recipes that will serve you better today and tomorrow.

Sign-up for PeerWell's PreHab program today and start recovering before you’ve even had a hip or knee replacement.

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Hi, I'm Grace. I write all things surgery for the PeerWell blog. You may remember me from such titles as: "Diabetes & Joint Replacement 101" & "Sex After a Joint Replacement".

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