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Nutrition is an important part of a healthy life before, during, and after your transplant. Surgery and certain medications can change your nutrition requirements and the way your body processes food. During your hospital stay, a dietitian will work with you to help you make informed nutrition choices and answer nutrition questions you may have. While everyone’s nutrition needs are not the same, the basic principles of healthy nutrition after transplant are discussed below.
Achieve and maintain your ideal body weight
If you are underweight, it is important to reach your ideal body weight so that you have adequate fat and protein reserves for protection during periods of infection or rejection. Once you successfully attain your desirable body weight, it is equally critical to stay within a close range, since excessive weight places an added strain on your new organ(s).
Excess weight can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose. All of these factors increase the risk of arteriosclerosis, elevated blood pressure, and possible coronary artery disease. Long-term use of prednisone can also elevate blood pressure, blood glucose, and triglyceride values. Excess body weight further complicates the problem and compounds the risk of developing arteriosclerosis.
Limit sugar and concentrated sweets
Long-term use of prednisone is associated with increased blood glucose levels.
High blood glucose levels can indirectly increase blood triglyceride levels. It is recommended that you limit your intake of sugar and concentrated sweets, and keep the total amount of carbohydrate in your diet within a moderate range.
Modify the fat content of your diet
Blood cholesterol levels have been shown to be directly related to coronary artery disease in the general population.
These guidelines are recommended for fat intake:
Moderately restrict your cholesterol intake
Decrease the total intake of saturated fats (Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and usually of animal origin.)
Substitute polyunsaturated fats (Polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and vegetable in origin.)
This includes limiting egg yolk, high-fat dairy foods and meats, and selecting non-fat milk, lean cuts of red meat, poultry, and fish. The primary cause of coronary artery disease is chronic progressive deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol and fibrous tissue in the walls of the arteries.
Whether cholesterol deposition plays nearly as important a role in transplant coronary artery disease is an unanswered question, but it seems prudent to try to control cholesterol levels. Evidence shows that blood cholesterol levels are influenced by the amount of dietary cholesterol, saturated fats, and total fats. Blood cholesterol levels can be lowered if both the total amount of cholesterol and saturated fat are decreased and poly-unsaturated fats are substituted.
We advise you to follow the dietary fat modification even if your blood cholesterol level is within normal range and you have no prior history of coronary artery disease. There is no level which is considered too low, since the risk of developing arteriosclerosis continues even with cholesterol levels in the normal range.
Restrict your sodium intake
To avoid fluid retention and aid in control of high blood pressure, we recommend that you follow a no-added salt diet. This means that food may be lightly salted during cooking, but no salt is added at the table. Avoid highly salted foods and consume high sodium processed foods such as cured, smoked and canned meats, cheeses, frozen meals and pizzas, and regular canned foods in moderation.
If you receive your heart transplant medical care at Stanford Medical Center and would like to meet with our dietitian on a one-on-one basis, please call Erin Williams, RD, CNSC at 650-723-6200. The nutrition services are open to all Stanford heart transplant patients at no charge. Telephone consults are available for patients who live at a distance.