Your diet after transplant

Changes in your food after transplant

After your transplant, you will have a lot more freedom with your diet. During the first few days, you may need to continue to limit certain foods. Your dietitian or medical team will let you know if this is necessary.

It is important that you try to eat well during this period to help your wound heal. Engaging in regular physical activity and maintaining good nutrition will also reduce some of the side effects of your medications like:

  • increased blood pressure
  • increased cholesterol
  • increased blood sugar level
  • weight gain
  • weak bones and osteoporosis

Protein

Studies that show that transplant recipients may need a high protein and energy intake temporarily after their operation. Protein-rich foods include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, legumes and lentils. Once your wounds heal, protein requirements are no longer as high.

You will need to regulate your protein intake depending on the type of transplant you’ve had. For example, if you are a kidney recipient, your protein must be monitored to ensure the new kidney has less work to do while processing meals.

Phosphate, Magnesium, Potassium

Our body depends on minerals like phosphates, potassium and magnesium to maintain some of its functions. Organ failure, or the treatment of the disease leading to organ failure, can lead to an imbalance in some of these minerals.

Examples of how mineral imbalances can affect us

  • Found in many foods we eat, potassium plays a key role in muscle contraction and heart function. Kidney failure causes a buildup of potassium in the body causing fatigue and nausea. Very high levels of potassium can be dangerous for the heart
  • Some medicines used to manage heart failure can cause a loss of potassium. Low potassium levels can cause muscle weaknesses and heartbeat irregularities
  • Magnesium is essential for several body functions including muscle health. People with cirrhosis of the liver often have depleted levels of magnesium. Anti-rejection medications taken after your transplant can also deplete magnesium levels causing muscle cramps and fatigue
  • The balance of calcium and phosphorous, vital for bone health, is maintained by the kidneys. An imbalance in these minerals caused by kidney disease can lead to bone diseases. High doses of immunosuppressants administered during initial weeks after transplantation can also cause weak bones

After transplantation, the levels of these minerals will be monitored every day. Your doctor will advise you (based on the results of blood tests) to increase or restrict any of these minerals.

The foods that we eat every day are the main sources of phosphates, magnesium, calcium and potassium. Talk to your dietitian regarding foods that contain these minerals. You can easily meet your daily requirements by including healthy options in your daily meals.

Check out this table for some healthy foods that are high in these minerals.

Widely used as preservatives, phosphates are found in processed cheeses, parmesan, cured meats (ham, bacon), colas, packet soups, vegemite, baking powder (biscuits, cakes and pastries) and fast foods. Limiting these foods or choosing healthy options from the above table will help you balance your mineral levels, and keep your transplant safe.

Blood glucose levels

As your appetite returns, you’ll be able to eat a variety of foods that were restricted before. Your medications may make you very hungry. Recipients can gain weight rapidly in the first year. This weight gain is sometimes difficult to get rid of – however, by being mindful and prepared, you will be able to combat this.

Weight gain can lead to heart disease and diabetes (high blood sugar levels). Recipients may also experience high glucose (sugar) levels within the first few weeks as a result of immunosuppressant therapy.

You can manage your calorie intake and blood sugar levels by:

  • Opting for low-calorie meals
  • Replacing high-calorie foods with raw vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lean meats and skinned poultry, nonfat dairy products and low-calorie or sugar-free beverages
  • Eating regularly-spaced meals (do not skip meals)
  • Avoiding sugar-rich foods like lollies, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, fruit juices

Ensure your diet includes plenty of calcium-rich foods as you will be prone to bone-thinning and osteoporosis. This may occur over the first few months when doses of your medications are at their highest. Often there are no symptoms for thinning bones. You may have to undergo a bone mineral density test to detect this.

Glucose Levels

If you’ve had a lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis, you may be on CREON. It is important to continue taking it with your meals. An improved respiratory function will help conserve more energy. With less calories to burn, you’ll be able to maintain your weight with smaller food intakes.

Click here for more on healthy eating

Acknowledgements

Transplant Australia gratefully acknowledges the valuable contribution of the following experts in reviewing this material:

Arian Chong

Senior Renal Dietitian
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

Carissa Maroney

Dietitian
Cardiothoracic Medicine, Surgery & Intensive Care, Heart & Lung Transplant, Cardiology
St Vincent’s Hospital

Helen Vidot

Specialist Dietitian
Liver Disease & Transplantation
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital

Katie Marks

Dietician
Nutrition & Dietetics
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

Sheridan Collins

Dietician
Nutrition & Dietetics
The Children’s Hospital at Westmead