Foods to Limit During a Surgical Recovery

April 30, 2013
As a recap to our previous blog, Habits to Avoid for a Surgical Recovery Diet, we discussed the benefits of quitting smoking and eliminating sodas from your diet to ensure optimal bone health post surgery. There is, however, another culprit that may lead to poor bone health – SUGAR. Sugar is becoming ubiquitous in the American diet and is linked to serious diseases including, but not limited to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.  Evidence shows that high sugar intake may actually be toxic to the human body. 
The average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of sugar daily.  This means approximately 15% or more of our total calories come from nutrient-devoid added sugars.  Children often consume more sugar than adults reaching upwards to 34 teaspoons per day.  On average, we each consume 156 pounds of refined sugar every year; in the 19th century, that total was 19 to 20 pounds per year.  The recommended daily allowance for added sugars for women is less than 6 teaspoons per day (24 grams) and for men less than 9 teaspoons per day (36 grams).  That equates to less than one full can of soda! Fun Fact: To determine the number of teaspoons of sugar in an item, divide grams of carbohydrates by 4. 
 The correlation of sugar consumption to poor bone health is not highly publicized, yet is becoming evident in current literature.  Research shows that sugar intake, fructose specifically, disrupts our body’s mineral balance.  In individuals with higher sugar intake, calcium stores are significantly reduced due to increased urinary calcium excretion.  Greater phosphorus losses have also been seen in those with higher fructose intake.  Sugar consumption is linked to increased cortisol production (a stress hormone that promotes abdominal fat and muscle breakdown) and increased risk for osteoporosis despite adequate calcium intake.  Lastly, sugar reduces the capacity of our immune system, something that we need heightened during periods of recovery. Added sugar is found in a lot of foods, especially those made to be low fatlight or fat-free, so be cautious during your grocery shopping.  For example sweetened dairy products, spaghetti sauces, salad dressings, condiments, granola bars, cereals, and highly processed foods in general are products often filled with hidden sugars.  Just because the words all natural, organic, or whole grain stamp the front of the package, doesn’t mean that the product is healthy.  Read the nutrition label and try your best to purchase products low in sugar.  Other foods that should also be avoided due to high sugar content are sodas, fruit juices, candy, cakes, ice cream, and cookies.  If you’re craving a sweet, curb that desire with a nutritious piece of fruit! The next food on the to limit list is a controversial one, but nevertheless one that we will mention here.  Like sugar, it is fairly ubiquitous in the average diet –GRAIN.  There are a few theories as to why grains should be reduced, especially by those recovering from bone injury.   First, grains contain phytates.  Phytates, or phytic acid, is the phosphorus store in plants, and is not digestible by non-ruminants (i.e., humans).  Ruminants such as cows and deer, animals meant to consume grains, can digest phytates and obtain the benefits.  In humans however, these non-digestible phytates reduce the absorption of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron; nutrients that may now sound familiar to you as those important in building bone.  Studies have also shown that grain intake may reduce the body’s ability to process vitamin D.  Lastly, grains are another dense source of carbohydrate, broken down and digested similarly to sugars.  Thirty percent of the average American’s diet comes from grains.  If we add this to the 15-20% coming from sugar, we have almost half of the diet full of nutrient-poor and possibly health-hindering foods.  If grains comprise a large portion of your diet, attempting to limit them post-surgery could be beneficial. To give your body the best chance for full recovery, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and fat sources, nuts, and dairy (if tolerated).  Also, consider implementing a few of these aforementioned bone healthy habits into your daily routine.  Avoid smoking, reduce your sugar and grain intake, and swap out the soda for water or an occasional glass of milk.  We want you to achieve optimal health. By following these steps you will be even closer to attaining this goal.
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