Why is Protein So Important?
You may have heard that protein intake becomes a priority after bariatric surgery. But why?
- Protein is the building block of our tissues and organs. Protein also plays a role in developing hormones and antibodies for your immune system. When protein intake is lacking, your body uses your muscles as a protein source instead, causing a loss in muscle mass and strength.
- Protein helps us build muscle. Muscles use more energy (i.e., calories) than body fat, so having more muscle actually increases your metabolism.
- Protein is required to heal wounds; after a surgery, consuming a higher amount of protein helps wounds heal faster.
- Having protein at meals helps us feel fuller, which allows us to take time between meals rather than constantly snacking all day to satisfy hunger.
How much protein do you need?
A minimum of 60-80 grams per day is recommended. Protein supplements and low-fat dairy or soymilk products are helpful for meeting the protein goal. Protein supplements made with whey protein isolate are safe for patients with lactose intolerance. During the full liquid phase, choose complete sources of protein such as whey, casein, milk, and soy. During the pureed/soft and regular texture stages, aim to consume 15-20g of protein per meal with protein foods 3-4 times per day. Continue to use an additional protein supplement if you are unable to get enough protein through food.
Foods high in protein:
- Meat – moist, soft, diced, ground, pureed, marinated, and boiled
- Low-fat dairy (Greek yogurt, milk, ricotta & cottage cheese)
- Beans, peas and lentils*
- Nuts, nut butters and seeds**
*legumes are unique in that they contain mostly carbohydrate and some protein. Consider these as “bonus” sources of protein to have alongside higher protein foods.
**nuts, nut butters and seeds have a little bit of protein but are higher in fats, so be aware of portion sizes and calorie information. (For example, 1 measured tbsp of peanut butter = 96 calories, 3.5 g protein, and 8 g fat)
What about hair loss?
Hair loss is normal after bariatric surgery and will stop within the first few months, given that protein and vitamin intake are sufficient. The hair will grow back! However, hair loss starting after 6 months or continuing after 1 year could be a symptom of inadequate protein or vitamin intake. Yet another reason to keep up your protein intake!
Cummings, S. & Isom, K. A. (2015). Pocket Guide to Bariatric Surgery (2nd ed.) Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.