Dietary Instructions: After Esophageal Surgery

These instructions are intended to help you maximize caloric intake while minimizing discomfort as you begin to eat again after surgery. Ideally, meals should be moist in consistency, small in amount and eaten frequently. It is recommended that these guidelines be followed for at least one month after surgery.

  • Food should be mild in taste. Avoid foods that irritate the digestive tract, such as caffeine-containing beverages, alcohol, ground pepper (red, white, black), chili powder and hot spicy foods. Eat only well cooked or canned vegetables. Limit gaseous vegetables, especially the following raw vegetables:
    • broccoli
    • cauliflower
    • Brussels sprouts
    • cabbage
    • pepper
    • mushrooms
    • corn
    • turnips
    • parsnips
    • onion
    • garlic
  • If you experience pain or a burning sensation upon swallowing, also avoid the following: acidic foods (citrus fruits/juices, tomatoes and tomato products) peppermint, salty foods, or very hot or very cold foods.
  • To reduce pressure on the surgical site, avoid dry or rough foods. Restrict foods containing large amounts of dietary fiber, which cannot be broken down by digestive juices. These include
    • bran
    • legumes
    • starchy beans
    • raw fruits and vegetables
  • For ease in swallowing, select moist foods that stay together easily without falling apart, and will not stick to the roof of your mouth or gums. Use small amounts of gravy, sauce, butter or margarine to help moisten foods. Take small bites of food and chew thoroughly before swallowing. Sip small amounts of liquids slowly with meals to soften food, if necessary. It is recommended not to exceed 4 ounces (1/2 cup) at a meal.
  • To avoid a feeling of fullness, eat small, frequent meals (for example, 5 to 6 meals per day). Do not force yourself to eat to the point of discomfort; stop eating immediately when you feel full.
  • Avoid consuming large amounts of fluids at any one time as these will fill you up quickly and may prevent you from eating other nutritious foods. Liquids may be taken between meals (1/2 to 1 hour after eating). Try to drink thick, nutrient-dense liquids rather than thin, clear liquids.
  • Limiting milk products may be helpful if thick mucus production is a problem.
  • To avoid discomfort, remain sitting for at least one hour after meals. Elevate the head of your bed; gravity helps to keep the stomach contents down.
  • To minimize gas, avoid drinking carbonated beverages, sucking on candies, chewing gum and using straws.
  • If you have questions regarding your diet, please contact your registered dietician.
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