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Protein is an essential nutrient that the body needs in order to grow, repair and form new tissue and cells, which includes muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails and internal organs. Protein also aids in wound healing (important after surgery), maintains lean body mass (which increases metabolism) and is necessary to prevent protein malnutrition. Protein is one of the three energy-producing nutrients, which provides 4 calories per gram of protein. High-protein foods slow the movement of food from the stomach to the intestine, which means you feel full longer. The body also uses more energy to digest protein than it does to digest carbohydrate or fat.

Protein in the diet can be found in mostly animal products, but there are non-meat sources of protein as well. Excellent sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), beans and nuts. To reduce fat intake choose lean cuts of meat, remove any skin and visible fat and pick low, reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products. Choose healthy protein sources like skinless white meat chicken and turkey, fish and shellfish (cod, flounder, tuna, trout, crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon), lean pork (fresh ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, center loin chop), and lean beef (ground round and sirloin).

Carbohydrate is the second energy providing nutrient, which provides 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate like protein. All carbohydrates are broken down to its simplest form, glucose. Glucose is utilized immediately for fuel by the brain and central nervous system. Carbohydrates provide all the cells of the body with the energy they need for everyday tasks and physical activity. Glucose may be converted to glycogen for later energy use.

Carbohydrates can be found naturally in a variety of foods which include milk, fruit, fruit juice, beans, starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potato, sweet potato, winter squash) and other starches (bread, cereals, grains, crackers, ect). You should avoid sweets, desserts and candies which are usually high in fat and calories and low in protein. When picking carbohydrate sources choose foods high in nutrients, low in fat and added sugars. For example, fruits, 100% fruit juices (must be diluted) and low-fat milk will provide carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. Whole grains and starchy vegetables are a good source of fiber as well, but remember you may not have these starches until phase 4.

Fat is the third energy providing nutrient, which provides 9 calories of energy per gram of fat. Dietary fat is stored as adipose (fat) cells in the body, which is used for structural purposes to hold the body organs and nerves in position and protect them against traumatic injury and shock. Fat is also used as a cushion to surround your bones and protect them from mechanical pressure. Fat insulates your body, preserving body heat and maintains body temperature. Dietary fat is essential for the digestion, absorption, and transport of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K).

Remember, fat has more than twice the amount of a calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates. Excess fat intake as well as excess carbohydrates will be stored in the body as adipose fat. Consuming high amounts of fat in the diet may cause a person to exceed their calorie requirements, which will lead to weight gain. Also, high fat intake can lead to elevated blood cholesterol, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Remember to avoid foods high in fat such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, whole milk, cream, oils, margarine, butters, mayonnaise, sour cream, fast foods and high-fat meats (hot dogs, sausage, bologna).

Remember, foods do not have to be bland. Try using spices, herbs, garlic, mustard, fat-free mayonnaise, broths, fat-free gravies, cooking sprays or sugar-free jellies to add flavor to your foods.

Jennifer Clark MS, RD, LDN

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