Carbohydrates- Can I or Can't I Eat Them After Surgery?

Carbohydrates- Can I or Can't I Eat Them After Surgery?

When talking about weight loss and bariatric surgery, foods that are high in carbohydrates are often brought up as “bad” foods or labeled “unhealthy.”

While it is important to limit some specific foods high in carbohydrates while your goal is to lose weight, not all carbohydrates are avoided, and they are not avoided forever.

What are carbohydrates?

The word carbohydrate (or carb)  is used to describe a type of food that breaks down into sugar in the body. Carbohydrates are found in both foods and drinks. One important fact is that there are 3 different types of carbohydrates.

When should I avoid them?

During the first 6 months to 1 year after surgery, possibly longer for some people, it is important to limit sugars and starches. This helps support weight loss by making sure that the little food you do eat is serving a valuable purpose.

The most important foods to consume include protein foods, healthy fats, and carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and help with the feeling of fullness and have many other health benefits. 

Why should I limit starchy carbohydrates?

If you were to focus on starchy carbohydrates during this sensitive time of weight loss, there would be no space for the protein, healthy fats, and high fiber fruits and vegetables that are needed.

Just remember, that even though we are avoiding certain types of starchy carbohydrates during this time, it does not mean that they should be labeled as “bad” or “unhealthy.” Many of these foods hold cultural significance and contain fiber and nutrients. 

When should I add them back in?

Once you are ready to maintain your weight, some of these foods can be reintroduced back into the diet. This may happen around 6 months after surgery for some people, while others may be waiting 1 year or longer before they reach their weight loss goal.

What are the best types of carbohydrates to reintroduce once I’m ready to maintain my weight?

It’s best to focus on complex carbohydrates while limiting sugars. Complex carbohydrates include whole wheat foods, whole wheat pastas, beans, oatmeal, low carb tortillas or corn tortillas, pita bread or ezekiel bread, naan, quinoa, lentils, and potatoes. 

It is important to continue to limit sugar in the diet from highly processed foods like pastries, cakes, cookies, brownies, candy, muffins, etc. These foods contain very little nutrition and can have more than 30 grams of sugar per serving. We recommend limiting sugar to less than 25 grams per day from foods and drinks. 

How much should I eat of these foods when I first introduce them?

Begin with a 1-2 ounce serving at one of your 3 meals in the day. If you’re a little nervous about reintroducing starchy carbohydrates, try incorporating them on the days you are more active with physical activity.

Monitor your weight for that week, and see if your weight loss has stabilized. The next week, add 1 more serving of a starchy carbohydrate food at one of your other meals to now have 2 servings of complex carbohydrates per day. Again, monitor your weight. 

It is important to remember that this food should not replace protein, healthy fats, fruits, or vegetables. It is helpful to eat food in the order listed above, and then if there is a little space to have the starchy carbohydrate, have that at the end.

Remember, everyone is different!

Everyone’s body is unique in its own special way. This contributes to some people being able to reintroduce a small serving of starchy carbohydrates with every meal once they are able to maintain their weight, while others may only have them a few days per week or one time a day. 

Take your time, and slowly reintroduce this food group so that you may find what works best for you.

If you’re struggling with maintaining your weight after surgery, please visit our Contact Us page to schedule an appointment with a dietitian.

Katie Ott, MS, RD

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