Eating a balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can help to prevent problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. This is important for everybody, but especially transplant recipients because of the need to protect the transplanted organ and because anti-rejection drugs may increase the risk of these complications. Therefore, you should follow any dietary advice or eating plan provided by your transplant team or nutritionist.
Eat a balanced diet
Eating well involves eating a variety of foods from each of the main groups:
• A third of your diet should be fruit and vegetables
• Another third should be bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
• The remainder should be made up of smaller amounts of protein (such as meat, fish, eggs and beans) and milk and dairy foods
• Only a little of your diet should be foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar
A low salt diet is important because salt may cause the body to retain water, which can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and damage to the eyes and kidneys. Try to replace high-salt foods (containing more than 1.5g of salt per 100g) with lower salt alternatives. Suggestions include using more herbs and spices to flavour food instead of adding salt, using low-salt margarines instead of regular butter, buying tinned tuna in spring water not brine, eating fresh meat instead of processed meats like ham and bacon and choosing lower salt cheeses like mozzarella and cream cheese rather than high-salt cheeses like feta.
A low fat diet helps to maintain low blood cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart disease.
Many food labels list the amount of saturated fat (or ‘saturates’) in a product separately from the total fat. This is because saturated fat is the ‘bad’ fat responsible for increasing blood cholesterol. Try to cut down on foods that are high in saturated fats; these will be labelled as containing more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g. Instead, eat more unsaturated fats which can actually help to lower cholesterol.
Examples of foods containing unsaturated fats include avocado, oily fish such as salmon, nuts and seeds and sunflower and olive oil.
Dairy foods like milk, cheese, butter and yogurt contain important proteins, B vitamins and calcium. Calcium is important to keep bones healthy and can help to lower the risk of osteoporosis.
However, a lot of the fat in dairy foods is saturated so choose low-fat options such as low-fat spreads, skimmed milk and low-fat yogurts. Cheeses can also contain high levels of salt, so you should try to limit the amount of cheese you eat.
Calcium works together with vitamin D. Vitamin D is mostly made in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, but can also be found in foods like oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), eggs and fortified breakfast cereals. Eating enough calcium and vitamin D can help to keep your bones healthy.
Prolonged use of some anti-rejection drugs can increase the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood, which may lead to diabetes.
Limiting the amount of sugar you eat can help maintain acceptable blood glucose levels. You should avoid eating too many sugary foods and drinks, such as biscuits and fizzy drinks. Sugar is also added to a number of foods that may be labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘diet’, and foods such as breakfast cereals, yoghurts, fruit juices, soups and sauces can contain sugar too. Check the labels on the packaged food you buy, under “Carbohydrates, of which sugars”; over 15g per 100g is high.