The Bariatric Diet: Healthy Snacks for Any Weight


Maintaining a healthy diet is a crucial step for bariatric patients, both before and after surgery. As part of the comprehensive Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Program, candidates for weight-loss surgery meet with staff dieticians who can offer expert counsel about the best and most nutritious dietary options that also fit a patient’s tastes and lifestyle.

“We really do stress at every point in the process that it is a major lifestyle change,” says Emily Newell RD, LDN, CNSC, one of the program’s dieticians at Pennsylvania Hospital. “One of the biggest concerns I hear from patients is that they are afraid they will never be able to have pizza again. I ask them, ‘Why would you want to go back to the kind of diet that hasn’t worked for you in the past?’”

Post-surgery, patients need to focus on the nutritional density of their food, because they are eating much smaller amounts and may have difficulty absorbing some nutrients. In general, the best diets are high in protein (Newell recommends a minimum of 60 to 80 grams per day) and fiber and low in fat and sugar. Meals should include lean protein, such as chicken, fish, or beans, and lots of vegetables.

Snacking can be a good thing, too. After surgery, Newell says, patients are restricted in how much they can consume at one time before feeling full or sick, so small snacks or “mini meals” can be a good way to get in more fiber, protein, and vitamins. Some of her favorite suggestions include:

  • Apple slices with peanut or another nut butter
  • Low-fat cheese sticks
  • Protein shakes, which she says are a good choice for patients who tend to skip breakfast
  • A handful of nuts (Just be sure to measure out a correct portion first; nuts can be high in calories)
  • Yogurt
  • Any fresh fruits or vegetables

As the weight comes off and patients adjust to their new way of eating, they often realize that their newfound energy and confidence can make them feel better than anything they ate before surgery—even pizza. Learn more about the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery program.