When recovering from surgery or injury, a robust wound healing diet is a must. A balanced diet for wound healing fuels your body with all the resources it needs to rebuild. But what IS the best diet to promote wound healing?
A good wound healing diet must have a base in nutritional science, but should also be customized to your individual needs. After all, no two wounds or two people are exactly the same.
For example, a wound healing diet for diabetics will look very different from a diet for someone healing post-op surgery wounds.
So what exactly should you eat for proper wound healing? And does what you eat actually affect your recovery time?
Today we will dive into the science behind nutrition and wound healing, and give you some of the top nutrition tips from doctors and nutritionists that may speed up your recovery.
Does what you eat affect wound healing?
Without a shadow of a doubt, nutrition plays a large role in wound healing. Wound healing process is a multi-stage, complex operation, and your body requires the right nutrients and energy for the wound healing process to work properly.
If the body is not fueled with what it needs, wound healing can slow, halt, or fail to progress from one stage to the next. For example, if you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet, you won’t have enough nutrients for proper collagen synthesis.
This is a problem, since collagen fibers are what fill in your wounds with new tissue!
If you notice any signs of your wound not healing properly, it’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible. Quality nutrition may be the key to reactivating wound recovery.
Nutrition for healing
The body initiates the wound healing process whether you’re aware of it or not. All you need to do is fuel it for success. Contrary to what some people may believe, post-surgery is not the time to try dieting or reducing calories.
Despite a potential reduction in mobility and exercise caused by the presence of a wound, the answer is actually “yes.”
On average, the first step in creating an effective wound healing diet is to increase your daily caloric intake. This should promote wound healing and may encourage wounds to recover faster.
But when you eat and what you eat matter just as much as how much you eat.
Controlling when you eat
It should be noted that the timing of when you eat can also play a part in your healing process.
This question is gaining traction in nutrition circles. Its results do yield some positive findings, but fasting comes with some risks that other health professionals label as detrimental to certain individuals.
If you are interested in trying fasting for wound healing, speak with a medical professional to make sure it is right for you.
Otherwise, it’s best to focus on fueling your body with the proper nutrition. But what is the best diet to promote wound healing? Nutritionists weigh in.
8 tips for a wound healing diet
If you’ve found yourself asking: “What can I eat to make my wound heal faster?”, you’ve come to the right place. Here are some top recommendations from doctors and nutritionists to promote proper wound healing - along with some example foods to help you get started.
1. Know your food groups, and balance them
Any diet, wound healing or otherwise, should be a balanced diet with a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Just eating your favorite snack won’t tick all the nutritional boxes. When it comes to meals, you need complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein, healthy fats, and ample vitamins and minerals in your diet.
One food alone won’t do that.
It’s important to understand the nutrition of foods in isolation, but combining them to bring balance and quality to your diet is crucial for wound healing.
2. Make it YOUR wound healing diet
Having a diet and following a diet are two completely independent concepts.
Make a wound healing diet of your own and you’ll find it easier to follow. You know best what you like to eat, so look into the benefits of the foods in your current diet and adapt your wound healing diet around these favorites with the help of a nutritionist.
For example, do you like dark chocolate? Then you may be happy to know that dark chocolate is a reasonably good source of zinc (coming up on this list!) and some healthy antioxidants. Of course, it also contains sugar, so it’s important to find the proper balance.
It’s okay to treat yourself when forming your wound healing diet - after all, we can all use a little mood boost when healing wounds.
Food for thought:
Consider Delicious and Dairy-Free Avocado & Lime Ice Cream. Recipes online like this one combine healthy ingredients in interesting and novel ways. In fact, nutrition can be a ton of fun to play around with.
Who knows, building your wound healing diet may introduce you to a new favorite meal in the process!
3. Get ample vitamin C
Some wounds may require an uptake in certain vitamins and minerals to support collagen wound healing. Vitamin C is particularly useful in the careful maintenance of wound healing and scarring because it works as a biochemical partner to collagen protein.
As we’ve discussed, collagen fibers are the protagonist in the wound healing process. Any effective wound healing diet will have good sources of vitamin C, usually found in a variety of fruits and vegetables including:
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts)
- White potatoes
Food for thought:
Goji berries, sometimes referred to as wolfberries, are a great source of vitamin C. There is an extensive history of goji berry used as a medicinal plant in ancient China, and people turn to goji berries not only for vitamin C but also for eye, liver, and kidney issues.
Goji berries may be an easy addition to your wound healing diet. You can add them to cereal or oatmeal, sprinkle them on top of your yogurt, or blend them into smoothies. The options are endless!
4. Find sources of zinc
Zinc is a mineral that should have a clear presence in your wound healing diet. And, zinc is an important mineral for your health in general!
That’s because zinc has a strong association with the functions of hundreds of enzymes in your body, as well as the metabolism of nutrients and upkeep of your immune system.
Given the immune system's importance in the wound healing process, zinc should be a part of any diet for wound healing.
Food for thought:
All shellfish are healthy, low-calorie sources of zinc, but oysters in particular contain high quantities of this important mineral. Just 6 medium oysters contain 32 mg of zinc, which makes them a great choice in your diet to promote wound healing.
5. Stay well hydrated
Hydration is of utmost importance to your body during wound healing. Why? Because hydration is connected to nearly every biological process your body takes part in.
Being well hydrated equals the efficient delivery of nutrients to cells that need them, which is vital for the wound healing process. Hydration also helps prevent infections, regulates your body temperature, and keeps your organs working as they should.
Staying hydrated with water rather than sweetened drinks or soda should be the focus of any diet, and a wound healing diet is no exception.
Food for thought:
Try to drink a glass of water first thing when you wake up. It’s a simple and clean way to start the day, and helps to get you hydrated quickly.
6. Get quality sources of energy
Extra considerations should be given to diets that are already adjusted to chronic conditions like diabetes. Diabetes wound healing can be trickier than recovering from the average surgery or injury.
With the body undertaking the task of wound healing, being gentle with blood sugar levels helps the body to focus on the wound healing task at hand.
Energy from refined carbs will be very short-lived. Instead, you should be looking for complex carbohydrates (like peas, beans, and whole grains) and high-quality proteins to last you through the day.
Food for thought:
People living with diabetes probably already know about the benefits of foods like peanut butter: which releases its energy slowly and doesn’t spike your insulin levels so harshly. Adding peanut butter to a morning smoothie can be a great way to get extra energy throughout the day.
7. Increase your protein intake
Wound healing diets put protein first. Given the huge role that collagen protein plays in wound healing, it will come as no surprise that the added nutrition your body needs most is protein.
We can’t stress enough just how useful protein is when it comes to wound healing. After the inflammation phase of healing is complete, wound healing becomes synonymous with the regeneration and reformation of collagen proteins.
With protein front and center in the wound healing effort, any wound healing diet should start by identifying strong protein sources. You may be following a diet for your health already, but this diet may not complement effective wound healing.
Take a plant-based diet and wound healing as an example. Plant-based diets can be an effective weight management tool. When it comes to wound healing however, it can be much more difficult to source adequate levels of protein if no animal products are involved.
In a study of postsurgical skin healing, vegan diets struggled to fully stock their subjects with adequate protein. The study concluded that vegan diets may negatively influence scar formation.
Of course, not all vegan diets are the same, and situations can also be affected by age or other underlying conditions such as diabetes. A wound healing diet for diabetics will take individual factors into account that other diets won’t.
For effective wound healing, include sufficient protein throughout the day, and try to incorporate protein with every meal you eat. You can work with your doctor or nutritionist to ensure you are getting ample amounts of high-quality protein in your diet, no matter what that diet may be.
Protein usually comes from meat, but it doesn’t have to. Eggs at breakfast, black bean tacos for lunch, and yogurt and cheese would all count as protein sources.
Food for thought:
White meat poultry gets full marks from the medical team when it comes to protein. Chicken or duck are great sources of protein and usually have lower fat content than red meat (although red meats definitely have their place on a wound healing diet too).
Chicken is so ubiquitous that if you’re looking for a white meat alternative, duck might be the answer to high-quality protein you’re looking for.
8. Try collagen supplementation
Getting protein purely from your diet is one option when it comes to wound healing, but it can be difficult for some individuals to get a truly beneficial amount of protein in their diet.
A more convenient way to ensure you’re meeting the protein quota in your diet may be through collagen supplementation. After all, it’s collagen that your body needs for wound healing, and providing extra collagen in supplement form is a sure way to provide your body with what it needs.
The benefits of collagen peptide protein are numerous, including that it is much more easily digested than dietary protein. This means it can be put to work on wound healing much more quickly.
Food for thought:
When it comes to wound healing supplements, nano-hydrolyzed collagen should be the number one choice. Medical-grade collagen products like ProT Gold are nano-hydrolyzed for easy digestion, and approved for use in medical nutrition by thousands of doctors across the US.
Whether it’s a wound healing diet for diabetics or a diet for wound healing in general, this fast-acting collagen protein supplement is the perfect addition.