Food habits to hasten healing

Diet plays an important role in recuperating from an illness or injury. And some foods and habits particularly speed the recovery process.

Sick woman

Recovery is a gradual process. How fast and easily one recovers from a health setback varies from person to person. It also depends on the type of surgery, injury or illness and its severity. Recovering involves a period of rest to regain strength and become healthy. Optimum nutrition facilitates a speedy recovery with healthy foods helping the body detoxify itself.

Usually most people have some appetite during recovery, but sometimes medication, treatment, or the pain involved, can adversely affect a person’s appetite and energy levels. Your doctor / dietician will help you manage these effects by modifying your diet. Initially, patients are to have small amounts of the new foods to check if they work for them.

In general too, while healing from a surgery / injury, you should begin eating some food as soon as possible, because your body needs energy to recover. It is important to start with smaller portions of food, and gradually increase the portions. This is because for many patients, even the sight of larger portions of food can be a major turn off.

While one should not be forced to eat, s/he should be encouraged to have certain foods. Here are some diet and nutrition guidelines to help convalescence:

Stay hydrated

SoupsConsuming fluids in the form of soups, fruit and vegetable juices, milk shakes and porridges is especially important to keep the body hydrated because dehydration makes the body more susceptible to additional ailments. Also, liquids are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Increasing the fluid intake helps keep patients more comfortable, especially when having solid foods is not possible or in the case of seniors or children. Have warm liquids as they are gentle on the throat and have a soothing effect. Furthermore, digesting liquids takes less energy, allowing the body more strength to combat illness.

Eat light

Avoid eating fatty foods during recovery, especially if you have been suffering from nausea and diarrhoea. Plain dal with rice, khichdi, curd rice or dry toast are good first foods. If your body accepts these well, then you may include chapatis with dal, vegetable and curd in the next meal. Choose light dals such as moong [green gram] and masoor [lentil] over pulses such as chole [chickpeas], chana [bengal gram] and rajma [kidney beans] as the latter lead to bloating and abdominal discomfort. Food should be cooked in minimum oil and moderate spices.

Consume a protein-rich diet

Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. It is critical in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. The body uses protein to build and repair tissues. Hence, a diet high in protein helps in an overall speedy recovery. Cow’s milk is a good and easy-to-digest protein source. When recovering, have two glasses of cow’s milk a day on an average.

In case you have diarrhoea, have buttermilk instead. Include a katori of dal, kadhi or soy and curd in both your meals. Chicken soup is an ideal recovery food too. While mutton and beef are to be excluded from the diet, grilled fish and chicken can be included as they are healthier.

Have small, frequent meals

Eat something every 2 – 3 hours rather than having just three square meals. Avoid both fasting and feasting when recuperating.

Dig into fruits and vegetables

FruitFruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre that boost immunity. Cooked vegetables are easier to digest and are less likely to cause infection as cooking destroys most organisms. Hence, have cooked vegetables rather than raw salads. Have vegetables such as dudhi [bottle gourd], padwal [snake gourd] and pumpkin as they are high in fibre and water content and are also easy to digest. On the other hand, eating vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli should be avoided as they produce gas. Fruits make for good in-between snacks. They are also a source of water for bonus hydration.

Avoid junk food

Most people think that it’s all right to have a samosa or a burger while they are at home, recovering. It is not okay; avoid junk food and stick to a simple home-cooked meal. Junk food is generally high in fat and total calories and devoid of vitamins and minerals. As mentioned earlier, a low-fat diet rich in vitamins and minerals is the best way to get well soon.

Keep these foods in mind as they will help you recover faster and regain normal health.

Food, mood and recovery

What you eat can affect your mood and how well your brain works,” says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. And mood plays an important role in recuperating. A half-hour argument with your loved one can slowdown your body’s ability to heal by at least a day. In couples who regularly argue, that healing time is doubled again according to researchers at Ohio State University. The couples they tested had blisters in their arms. When a disagreement between them provoked strong emotions, the wounds took around 40 per cent longer to heal. This response, say researchers, was caused by a surge in cytokines—immune-molecules that trigger inflammation. Chronic high levels of these are linked to arthritis, diabetes, heart-disease and cancer. A recent report in the British Medical Journal [BMJ] examines surveys of five specific nutrients that have been shown to improve immune system function after surgery. It can be surmised from the report that what you eat could make all the difference between a difficult recovery and a successful one. — Team CW

This was first published in June 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Richa Anand
Richa Anand is full time consultant dietician at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, Mumbai


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