Post-Op Low-Sodium Food Options

The following article is meant to provide information about low-sodium diets, how they can be achieved, and why they are helpful to follow after surgery. This information is not meant to replace medical advice and it is not our goal or intention for the information on this page to feel limiting or restricting. If you or someone you know experiences disordered eating, please contact the National Eating Disorder Association at (800) 931-2237.

During recovery from top surgery or body contouring, it is important to keep salt (sodium) intake levels low. Sodium can increase your chances of post-operative swelling, which in turn can increase the recovery time. For two days before surgery and two weeks after, it is recommended to consume no more than 1500mg sodium daily to help maintain a healthy healing process. In addition to monitoring your sodium intake, there are some natural healing supplements that can promote healing after surgery,

Unfortunately, almost everything that comes pre-prepared (e.g.: from restaurants or grab and go meals) or food that comes pre-wrapped (e.g.: in a can or wrapped in cellophane) is likely high in sodium, including pre-packaged prepared frozen meals. In suggesting “low-sodium” diets before and after surgery, the ideal meal plan would be to get as close to no salt as possible.

Tip on “nutritive reserves”: For the two weeks after surgery, your body will be able to utilize its “nutritive reserves,” meaning that you shouldn’t worry so much about consuming excess protein during this time. Often, sources of protein are high in sodium, so try not to compromise your low-sodium diet for the sake of protein intake.

One of the only ways to ensure that you’re getting close to a no-sodium diet for the two weeks after surgery is to prepare all of your own meals or to have them prepared for you by friends, family, or community members. However, this method often relies on grocery store proximity, extra funds, having the time to preapre two weeks of meals before surgery, and/or people around you who have the time to spend cooking and other chores around the house that you might not be able to do physically while recovering.

To accommodate variations to access to these resources, below you will see a two approaches to a low-sodium diet. The first option follows the guidelines above and suggests cooking all your meals (or having someone else do the cooking) with fruits, vegetables, and enough protein to sustain you for two weeks after surgery. The second option suggests some choices that may contain slightly higher levels of sodium but will be less ongoing maintenance for you and/or your care team.

Below are some low-sodium meal prep options that are recommended to prepare and eat during your recovery. It should be noted that after top surgery or body contouring, patients should be resting and taking it easy. If necessary, patients should meal prep in advance of their surgery or ask members of their support team to help cook and clean during this time.

Low-Sodium Meal Suggestions

Easy breakfast options:

  • Scrambled, boiled, or poached eggs with side of sliced avocado, roast potatoes, flour tortilla or steamed rice.
  • Oatmeal (fresh steel cut or rolled oats is better) topped with any unsalted nuts and fresh fruit.
  • Congee: boiled rice porridge; avoid salt and avoid all pre-packaged broths.
  • Egg burrito: Scrambled eggs wrapped in a flour tortilla. You may add any raw pure cheese such as burrata, Mexican cheese, or French soft cheeses. Avoid American processed packaged cheeses.

Lunch and/or dinner options:

  • Spinach, cucumber and avocado salad with unsalted seeds or nuts, roast chicken breast, or salmon; avoid salt.
  • Roast herb chicken (use herbs for flavor instead of salt) with roasted root veggies like carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc.
  • Pan seared or baked tilapia fillets with roasted green onions, peppers, and steamed white rice; avoid salt and use unsalted butter.
  • Pasta dish with homemade pesto sauce (you can add any greens you have at home, like kale or parsley) and an option side of any roast meat or fish
  • Quinoa salad with grape tomatoes, red onions, with fresh goat cheese and topped with boiled eggs. Use lemon and extra virgin olive oil for dressing. Avoid using stock to make quinoa as that is usually high in sodium.
  • Marinated, roasted tofu with roasted broccolini (avoid soy sauce/tamari)
  • Grilled skirt steak with grilled or roasted eggplants and zucchini
  • Roasted portobello mushrooms with garlic
  • Roast large shrimp, serve with with pineapple mango salsa ; (avoid salt)
  • Chicken soup: buy raw chicken with bones, sauté with carrots, onions and celery and low simmer for 45mins with bay leaf and 4 peppercorns. Lightly salted to taste.
  • Rice bowl: any roast meat combined with steamed white rice topped with green onions, cilantro, spinach, thinly sliced ginger, and some roasted zucchinis or any veggie of choice
  • Burrata salad: whole fresh burrata or fresh mozzarella with sliced pears and peaches with sweet balsamic reduction or any semi sweet finish like honey or maple syrup
  • Red lentil soup

The options below are slightly lower maintenance and are suggested for patients with less immediate community and grocery access, but may contain higher levels of sodium:

  • Toast with jam, avocado and extra virgin olive oil, almond butter, or any other low-sodium topping. Some store-bought breads may contain higher levels of sodium than others.
  • Bean burrito: flour tortilla and unsalted canned beans and soft European or raw cheeses. Serve with a side of fruit and a soft or hard boiled egg.
  • Pasta dish with store-bought unsalted or low-sodium pasta sauce.
  • Rice and beans salad : use unsalted canned beans
  • Chicken salad with pineapple
  • Cucumber and pineapple salad
  • Kale salad with thinly sliced apples and walnuts. Use balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Below are some common high-sodium foods that should be avoided as much as possible. In general, try to avoid packaged, processed or canned foods if possible. Be sure to check sodium levels in these foods before consuming them:

  • Processed cheese
  • Packaged, canned, processed, or restaurant soups
  • Canned vegetables
  • Processed meats (cold cuts, bacon, ham, etc)
  • Boxed meals or meal helpers
  • Frozen meals
  • Some salad dressings
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Some breads

In Summary:

  • For the two weeks immediately following surgery, it is recommended to avoid salt intake as much as possible. If at all helpful, you can use 1500mg of sodium per day as a ballpark number.
  • There are tons of delicious and simple recipes out there to help you stay on top of your low-sodium diet.
  • Try to arrange for a support team with help you with meals if you aren’t able to prepare food for yourself before your surgery date.