In the first few months following transplant surgery, it's crucial to follow the recommendations provided from the medical team to ensure proper healing and promotes adequate function of the newly transplanted organ. One essential aspect of the post-transplant care plan is the nutrition guideline provided by the transplant dietitian. A solid nutrition plan is fundamental to your health and is one way you can work to optimize how well the transplanted organ functions.
In general, nutrition recommendations guidelines after transplant include a well-balanced, portion and carbohydrate controlled diet. Your transplant dietitian may further personalize your diet depending on individualized needs when considering pre-existing conditions or risks due to family history.
One important area of focus in the post-transplant nutrition guidelines is to help raise awareness of potential food safety concerns while the immune system is compromised from immunosuppressants – medications that reduce the risk of organ rejection. Although these medications are an essential component of treatment, they may increase a patient’s susceptibility to infection, so it’s important to minimize risks associated with diet.
As more Americans strive for healthier diets, there has been a shift to increase the consumption of fresh and local foods and beverages. While this is a wise choice, transplant patients must choose carefully – especially in the area of unpasteurized food items.
There are several types of pasteurization and all incorporate the method of heating to eliminate potential pathogens and then cooling. The difference lies in how long a product is heated and to what temperature, and how quickly it is taken from the peak temperature to a cooled product.
The problem with raw honey
One popular sweetener that’s gaining the attention of consumers seeking more local products is raw honey. Whether added to a cup of hot tea or a nut butter sandwich, a spoonful of raw honey may potentially expose a recently transplanted person to harmful contaminants or bacteria. Raw honey has not undergone pasteurization, so as part of the nutrition guidelines following transplant surgery, dietitians advise against it. This is also true for unpasteurized milk and any foods made from unpasteurized milk, like yogurt and cheese.
Another trending group of products are juices and smoothies that advertise a “gentle pasteurization.” The gentle pasteurization process is similar to pasteurization in that products are heated and cooled quickly, but the temperature during the heating phase and the total length of the process differ.
One reported benefit of this method is that the fruits and vegetables are able to retain more of their healthy properties; however, it’s not clear whether enough of the potentially harmful bacteria are eliminated in this method. After reaching out to a leading manufacturer of “gently pasteurized” manufactured beverages, a definitive answer has not been offered as to whether these products are without risk for immune-compromised patients. For this reason, it’s also advisable for post-transplant patients to avoid gently pasteurized beverages.
To keep in mind
So when putting together a grocery list or making on-the-go food selections in convenience stores, think about the nutrition recommendation guidelines and remember that unpasteurized foods could lead to unhealthy side effects.
I often remember the words of a post-transplant patient who I met with a few days after their transplant surgery. After learning about some changes required to their diet to care for their transplanted organ well, the patient said, “I have been given this gift, and I will do whatever I have to, to say thanks every day.”
Following nutrition recommendations and partnering closely with your healthcare team are two ways to “say thank you every day” and steward the gift of a donated organ well. Please contact your transplant dietitian if you have questions about foods that are safe after transplant.