Nutrition - Eating for healing

By: Nicole Wilson

About the time that this column is due to be published, I will be a couple of days from having knee surgery. Thankfully it is only a minor procedure, but even so, any surgery causes trauma to the body. To aid recovery from that trauma, and to get you back to life as quickly as possible, good nutrition can play a key role in helping you to heal and regain strength.

There are certain foods that provide specific nutrients to aid recovery and repair, but firstly we need to ensure that we are eating enough calories to fuel the recovery. Not eating enough after surgery can slow the healing process. However, sometimes appetite can be reduced or you could be feeling nauseous after surgery due to pain or the effects of medications. This usually passes a few days after surgery, but it is important to try to eat something to keep your strength up. You could try eating small amounts of bland foods, such as chicken broth, crackers, plain toast and bananas. My go-to is boiled rice with peas and corn.

As soon as you can, start adding in foods that are high in nutrients that promote healing, such as:

•    Protein. This plays a major role in building, repairing, and maintaining muscle and bone, and helps your immune system stay strong. Examples include soy, dairy products, legumes, eggs, poultry, fish, meat and nuts.

•    Vitamin C. This helps to support the repair of tendons, ligaments and wounds. Examples include, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, capsicum, berries and broccoli.

•    Calcium and vitamin D. We need vitamin D to help absorb calcium and to build and maintain strong and healthy bones. Examples include dairy foods, kale, almonds and chia seeds for calcium; sunlight and dairy foods for
vitamin D.

•    Fibre. Constipation is a common side-effect of surgery and fibre feeds our gut bacteria which helps keep our immune system strong. Examples include dried figs, oats and legumes.

•    Water. This helps to keep blood flowing to carry nutrients and oxygen to the wound site, and can help reduce constipation. Plain water is best, but flavoured waters are good, too.

While these nutrients help with recovery, some foods can slow recovery down. Look to reduce or avoid caffeine, excessive sugar and salt; as well as cutting out alcohol and cigarettes, as they can impair wound healing and suppress your immune system.

However, there is more to helping your body heal than just eating well. Rest is essential to aid your body’s repair process. Listen to your body, and if you feel tired, then take a break. Also, follow the instructions of your surgeon, take your prescribed medications and talk about any concerns at your follow-up visits. As soon as your surgeon allows, start moving your body to increase blood flow and regain muscle strength.

Recovery times vary so much from person to person and depend on the type of surgery, but hopefully these suggestions will have you back on your feet and resuming normal activities sooner rather than later.

Nicole Wilson, Registered nutritionist


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