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Understanding Blood and Blood Components

Bloodless Chart

Learn more about blood and 'minor blood fractions' with this helpful interactive chart.

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Bloodless Medicine

How Do I Prepare Nutritionally For Upcoming Surgery?

Weight Gain

A person who is underweight for his or her height should try to gain some weight prior to surgery, as appetite and food intake may be compromised for a time after surgery. An overweight person should not try to lose a lot of weight until after recovering from surgery. The key is to improve the quality of your diet, meeting the U.S. dietary guidelines as set out in the Daily Food Guide Pyramid. A Patient who is extremely overweight would want to consult his or her doctor. It may be wise to lose some weight before the surgery, and to seek nutritional counseling to continue weight loss afterwards.


Protein plays an important part in cell formation. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for this nutrient is 63 grams for men and 50 grams for women. You can boost your protein level by eating more meat, fish, poultry, or nuts. One serving of protein is equal to 2 to 3 ounces of meat, poultry or fish, one egg, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or a half-cup of legumes (beans). If your medical condition is creating a high degree of physical stress, ask your doctor about a high protein diet. This would increase the daily amount to about 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of your ideal weight, or as determined by your doctor.


Iron is essential in preparing the body for surgery. The RDA for iron is 10 milligrams for men and 15 milligrams for women. Iron from organ meats, like liver, kidneys or heart, and egg yolks and shellfish is most easily absorbed. Vegetarians may choose plant food sources: legumes (baked beans, lima beans), dried fruit, spinach, kale, or cereals fortified with iron. It is more difficult to obtain sufficient iron stores from plant foods alone; therefore, if a patient is iron deficient he or she may need iron supplements. Iron deficiency can be determined by a blood test.


Folic acid and B12 are also used to build red blood cells*. Good food sources of Folic acid are meat, beans, green vegetables, nuts (peanuts, cashews, almonds), cantaloupe and orange juice. Vitamin B12 is most concentrated in meat, fish, eggs and cheese. In the case of severe anemia, your doctor may prescribe injections of B12.

One other element that promotes blood building is Copper. It is a trace element**, and the RDA is small (1.5-3.0 milligrams), but it is essential for the body to absorb iron and build blood cells. By eating a variety of foods from all the food groups, you will have sufficient Copper in your system.

Dietary Supplements

Be careful with dietary supplements. Some can alter your bleeding time! While eating such food items as garlic, soy, or flax seeds is fine, taking concentrated amounts of these in supplement form can interfere with blood clotting, particularly if you are also taking an anti-coagulant, such as aspirin or Coumadin. Tell your doctor if you take garlic, ginger, gingko, or genistein tablets; fish oil capsules, omega 3 fatty acid supplements, soy protein powders or flax seed oil. Surgical patients are usually directed to stop these supplements at least a week before surgery.

In conclusion, preparing nutritionally for surgery means eating for good health. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Eat foods from all five food groups (milk, meat, vegetable, fruit and grain) every day.
  2. Eat different foods from each food group every day.
  3. Consult with your physician or registered dietitian.

* Red blood cells - cells that carry oxygen to all the cells in the body.
** Trace element - element found in very small amounts in foods and body tissue.

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