What's On My Plate - A Transplant Recipient Perspective
Today's blog is written by a guest blogger and active member of our transplant discussion group, Athena (@athenalee). In June 2019, Athena was diagnosed with stage 3 liver cirrhosis due to primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). She was blessed to receive a donor liver in August 2020. One of her passions is researching nutrition and natural ways to help keep her new liver healthy. She's employed as a writer in her day job, so we thought who better to share with you what she has learned about nutrition and transplant!
As organ transplant recipients many of us will live normal lives after our recovery. But to remain healthy, it’s important that we adopt recommended food safety and healthy eating practices.
Taking time to carefully wash all fruits and vegetables, making sure eggs, meat, and seafood are cooked to safe internal temperatures, consuming only pasteurized juices, cheeses, and other dairy products along with other food safety practices, will always be a part of our lives. However, our transplants can lead to other health issues, primarily due to the medications we take to keep our bodies from rejecting our donor organs (or stem cells). Some of these health issues can become quite serious—proper diet and exercise can help.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be exacerbated by being overweight, an issue many of us grapple with following our transplant surgery. Transplant recipients also face a greater risk of high blood pressure because tacrolimus, cyclosporine, and corticosteroids may lead to vasoconstriction, the constriction of blood vessels, which in turn increases blood pressure.
Diabetes also tends to be more common in transplant recipients than the general population. Being overweight compounds the risk but so do our immunosuppressive medications. Tacrolimus and cyclosporine interfere with the release of insulin in our bodies, while corticosteroids may cause insulin resistance. Diabetes can lead to a greater risk of infection, cardiovascular disease, and even poorer graft survival rates.
While the potential adverse effects of our medications are out of our control, we can help reduce our risk of these and other diseases through eating nutritious meals. Healthy eating is made easier by planning meals (and checking recipes) ahead of time, making a shopping list, and sticking to it (to avoid impulse snack purchases). This ensures we have on hand a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds/nuts, lean meats/tofu/beans, and low-fat dairy products for preparing well balanced meals. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to cook much or has limited time, consider cooking methods that make meal preparation easier, such as a slow cooker or air fryer.
Reducing salt intake is important for helping to control blood pressure and to help our kidneys be stronger (along with lots of water, of course). Being a nutrition facts label reader is a health essential! Canned soups, prepared meals, snack foods, and restaurant foods are often high in salt, sugar, and oils. Herbs, a dash of lemon or zest, balsamic vinegar, dried onion, and roasted garlic make great salt substitutes. Reducing or eliminating sweets, soda, and other foods containing refined sugar or processed carbohydrates brings many health benefits. Sweetening with high complex carbohydrates, such as barley malt and rice syrup, or fruit will satisfy those sweet cravings, while having less impact on weight and pre-diabetic blood sugar levels. If you have weight issues, your transplant dietitian may still suggest minimal use of these complex sweeteners. Consult your care team for dietary suggestions for your specific case.
Our second chance at life can be a healthier journey through attention to food safety practices and preparing nutritious meals.
This article was written by a liver transplant recipient, not a medical provider. Please consult your transplant nutritionists for more specific dietary suggestions appropriate for you. Appreciation to @loribmt and @estrada53 for their review of this article and thoughtful suggestions.
Transplant Culinary Arts - a Zoom Opportunity
Join us for “Transplant Recipient Culinary Arts,” a fun monthly Zoom gathering for recent transplant recipients and longer term recipients (solid organ and stem cell), as well as caregivers, on Mayo Connect, to share healthy and delicious recipes and food safety and healthy eating tips. Here’s the link to the original discussion for more information—https://connect.mayoclinic.org/discussion/transplant-culinary-arts-zoom-sessions/. You can sign up by replying to the post or contacting either Athena @athenalee or Ellen at @estrada53 through our transplant discussion group.
Our next Transplant Recipient Culinary Arts webinar event will be Thursday, November 4, 4pm west/6pm central/7pm east.