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Can I eat carbs after bariatric surgery?

By Margaret Furtado

shutterstock_53569723 - smallAlthough mindful eating doesn’t focus on rules or a rigid set of numbers, you may wonder, “Can I eat carbs after bariatric surgery?” and if so, “How many carbs does my body need after surgery?” What does the research say about how many grams of carbs per day is optimal after bariatric surgery?

Carb is NOT a 4-letter Word after Bariatric Surgery

Carbohydrates (also called “carbs”) often get a bad rap after weight loss surgery. Sometimes even the most experienced bariatric clinicians throw rules at their patients like, “No more than twenty carbs a day” or “Don’t eat white foods like rice, bread, or pasta ever again!”

Despite this well-meaning advice, carbohydrates are the preferred energy source in your diet, even after bariatric surgery. Here’s why:

  • Many bariatric patients experience decreased energy in the first few months after surgery and inadequate carbohydrate intake may be one of the causes.
  • Eating enough carbohydrate helps spare protein so protein isn’t converted to fuel for your brain.
  • Many carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are nutrient-rich.
  • Fiber-rich carbohydrates help combat constipation, help you feel full and stay full longer (particularly helpful when hunger reappears after the “honeymoon” period).
  • Fiber-rich carbohydrates help keep your blood sugar levels more stable, which may decrease sugar cravings and dips in energy.

Carbohydrate Goals after Bariatric Surgery

A recent scientific study showed that the optimal level of carbohydrates for long-term success after weight loss surgery is approximately 90 grams per day by six months after surgery.

What does that mean in terms of food? Here’s an example of a day’s food intake that would provide 90 grams of carbohydrate:

3 servings of fruit (1 serving = 1 orange, pear, peach, 1/2 grapefruit, medium banana, 15 grapes…)
3 servings of vegetables (1 serving = 1 cup of raw or 1/2 cup cooked)
2 servings of grains or starchy vegetables (1 serving = 1 slice of toast, 1/2 cup hot cereal, a small potato, 1/2 cup of peas or corn).

That may sound like a lot of food after bariatric surgery—especially if you aren’t very hungry or you’re so focused on getting enough fluid and protein that there isn’t much room for carbohydrate containing foods. Each person’s needs vary but here is a general guide to help ensure that you’re giving your body what it needs:

Carbohydrate Goals for First 3 Months after Surgery

Carbohydrate goal = Enough carbohydrate to supply glucose for your brain so protein won’t be used as fuel.

Aim for:

2 or more servings of fruits and vegetables
1 serving of grain, grain products, or starchy vegetables
1 serving of dairy (or soy milk fortified with calcium if you don’t consume dairy).

Carbohydrate Goals by 6 Months after Surgery

Carbohydrate goal = Enough carbs for optimal energy and protein-sparing fuel, as well as taking in all of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods contain.

3 or more servings of vegetables
2-3 servings of fruit
1-2 servings of whole grains, whole grain products, or starchy vegetables
1-2 servings of dairy

Experimenting with timing and trying to incorporate new foods slowly will help improve food tolerance. The overall approach involves encouraging whole foods and limiting processed foods for the most nutritious diet and long-term healthy weight.

What about Sugar?

Yes, sugar is also a carb. We’ll talk about that in the next post, Can I Eat Sugar after Bariatric Surgery, but here’s a hint: All foods might fit after bariatric surgery!

Note: This content is based on the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery Set.

 

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About the author

Margaret Furtado, M.S., R.D., served as a consultant on the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery Program. She has specialized in bariatric surgery at bariatric surgery centers of excellence for over a decade, including Tufts Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Johns Hopkins Center for Bariatric Surgery, and The University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland. Margaret has co-authored three patient-centered books on bariatric surgery and nutrition, including her newly-revised Recipes for Life After Weight Loss Surgery and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Well After Weight Loss Surgery, and co-author of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery.. She was one of the authors of the 2008 bariatric nutrition guidelines published by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Margaret speaks internationally on bariatric surgery and nutrition.

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