Protein in your diet for upper gastrointestinal surgery

Protein is a nutrient (a substance that gives you nourishment) found in certain foods, such as meat, fish, dairy products and nuts. It is used to build, maintain and repair the body's cells and tissues. 

It's important that you have enough protein before and after your upper gastrointestinal surgery (surgery to the upper part of your digestive system). This is because:

  • protein is important for wound healing, strength and your recovery
  • protein contains essential vitamins and minerals, including zinc and iron
  • protein helps to make substances called antibodies that fight infection

Muscle is made up of protein. If you lose weight quickly or do not have enough protein in your diet, this can lead to muscle loss. You then have less strength and lower energy levels. 

Other signs of not having enough protein in your diet include:

  • regular infections
  • weakness
  • hair loss or thinning
  • dry or brittle (easily breakable) nails

How much protein you need

The amount of protein that your body needs depends on your weight and overall health.

Healthy adults need about 1 gram (g) of protein for each kilogram (kg) of their body weight every day. For example, if you weigh 60kg, you should aim to have about 60g of protein every day.

If you recently had surgery, you will need more protein to:

  • help make new cells (such as blood cells) or hormones (chemical substances that affect the growth and activity of cells)
  • repair old cells
  • keep your muscles strong

Your dietitian (an expert on food and diet) recommends how much protein you should have each day.

Foods high in protein

Foods that are high in protein include:

  • lean (low in fat) meats, poultry and fish
  • eggs
  • dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • beans
  • legumes and pulses, such as lentils, peas, chickpeas and yellow split peas
  • soya and soya products, such as soya beans, edamame beans (green soya beans), tofu, soya milk, tempeh (a cheese-like food made of cooked soya beans) and soya yogurt
  • nuts

Protein is also found in processed meat products, such as: 

  • sausages 
  • bacon 
  • salami 
  • black pudding 
  • chicken wings 
  • breaded or battered fish or chicken 

You need to avoid eating more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. You can read more about meat in your diet on the NHS website.

Adding more protein to your diet

Include protein-rich foods in all your meals, snacks and drinks, where possible.

  • Have milky drinks or use the high protein milk recipe instead of water or juice.
  • Include eggs and dairy products in your diet. 
  • If you are a vegetarian or vegan, try to eat a variety of foods that contain protein. Examples are soya products, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds. 

To include more protein in your meals and snacks, you could:

  • add beans, chickpeas and lentils to soups, casseroles, rice and couscous
  • use milk in drinks and your cooking instead of water 
  • mix cashew nuts or peanuts with water or milk to make a sauce
  • sprinkle nuts and seeds on breakfast cereals, porridge, salad and pasta dishes
  • add peanut, almond, cashew or hazelnut butter to fruit, yoghurts and porridge

High protein milk recipe

This recipe makes your milk richer in protein and energy, without increasing the volume (amount) of the milk. 

You can use this high-protein milk rather than ordinary milk in cream soups, puddings, cereals, smoothies and other drinks. 

  1. Choose 1 pint of full fat, semi-skimmed, or skimmed milk. Your dietitian talks to you about the most suitable choice of milk.
  2. Add 4 tablespoons (57g) of dried skimmed milk powder.
  3. Mix well.

You might want to use protein powder instead of dried skimmed milk powder. However, the calories, grams of protein and sugar might be slightly different depending on the flavour of each protein shake or powder.

Make sure that you read the label of the powder. Look for "100% protein isolate", which should be the first ingredient. This means that the powder has a high concentration (amount) of protein. You can choose whey or soy powder.

Resource number: 4977/VER3
Last reviewed: June 2022
Next review: June 2025

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your dietitian.

Phone: 020 7188 1428, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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