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The current trend in postoperative nutrition is to promote a normal oral diet as early as possible. However, postoperative ileus is a frequent and common problem after major abdominal surgery. This study was designed to investigate whether early enteral nutrition (EEN), as a bridge to a normal diet, can reduce postoperative ileus.Patients undergoing major rectal surgery for locally advanced primary or recurrent rectal carcinoma (after neoadjuvant (chemo)-radiation, with or without intraoperative radiotherapy) were randomly assigned to EEN (n = 61) or early parenteral nutrition (EPN, n = 62) in addition to an oral diet. Early nutrition was started 8 hours after surgery. Early parenteral nutrition was given as control nutrition to obtain caloric equivalence and minimize confounding. The primary endpoint was time to first defecation; secondary outcomes were morbidity, other ileus symptoms, and length of hospital stay.Baseline characteristics were similar for both groups. In intention-to-treat analysis, the time to first defecation was significantly shorter in the enteral nutrition arm than in the control arm (P = 0.04). Moreover, anastomotic leakage occurred significantly less frequently in the enteral group (1 patient) compared with parenteral supplementation (9 patients, P = 0.009). Mean length of stay in the enteral group was 13.4 ± 2.2 days versus 16.7 ± 2.3 days in the parenteral group (P = 0.007).Early enteral nutrition is safe and associated with significantly less ileus. Early enteral nutrition is associated with less anastomotic leakage in patients undergoing extensive rectal surgery.