Adequate protein intake is essential for everyone, but we focus on this a lot for bariatric surgery patients. The reason we focus so much on this is because protein is found in every cell in your body and it is used to build, repair and maintain bones, muscles, skin, nails and hair. Protein is not stored in the body the same way that fats and carbohydrates are, so we need to consume protein every day in order to get what we need. On average, women need to get 50 grams of protein per day and men need to get 65 grams of protein per day. This can be very challenging with the portion limitations you have after bariatric surgery. To add to this, sometimes patients do not like meats or are vegetarian. While this can make getting enough protein in your diet more of a challenge, it is not impossible.
What happens if you don’t like chicken, turkey and fish and it’s too soon after surgery for you to try red meat? This doesn’t leave you with many options in the “meat department,” so how are you going to be able to get your protein? It definitely requires more planning, but you can get enough protein from other sources. Besides your traditional meat sources, protein can be found in eggs, low-fat and fat-free milk, fat-free yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), low-fat cheese, beans, tofu, and peanut butter, just to name a few.
There are also products out there with added proteins to help you meet your needs, such as protein shakes, protein bars and protein waters. While we encourage protein shakes and protein water immediately after surgery to help you meet your needs while you are unable to get your protein from solid foods, these should not be continued long-term. After the first month or two, you should stop drinking protein shakes because they provide you with calories, but typically leave you feeling hungry. Many people end up consuming more calories overall because they are hungry shortly after drinking the shake, leading to slower weight loss. After the first month or two after surgery, you should be able to get enough protein from solid food sources. Protein bars can be used occasionally for a meal replacement but you need to choose your protein bar carefully as some of them contain a lot of fat and sugar. You want to make sure it will be a nutritious meal replacement, rather than similar to a candy bar. Try to stick to a protein bar that contains 200 calories or less and at least 15 grams of protein.
So how much of these non-meat protein sources do I have to eat in order to get my protein for the day? To help you out, here are some approximations of how much protein is in certain foods:
1 large egg = 6 g protein
1 slice of cheese = 7 g protein
6 oz. yogurt = 5 g protein
6 oz. Greek yogurt = 14 g protein
4 oz. Cottage Cheese = 14 g protein
1 cup skim milk = 8 g protein
½ cup tofu = 8-10 g protein
½ cup beans = 7 g protein
2 Tbsp. peanut butter = 8 g protein
By incorporating small amounts of these foods with each meal, you should be able to reach your protein goals. If you’re struggling to get the amount of protein you need, contact your dietitian for some suggestions on how you can reach your protein goals.