Can food really help the healing process? Yes, says Dietitian Laura Tilt.
In the UK alone, 4.7 million surgical procedures, 130,000 burns admissions and 174,700 caesarean sections take place each year . After major traumas like these, the body begins the recovery process, often forming a visible scar. However, in a survey conducted by KELO-COTE®, nearly two-thirds of respondents were unaware that common surgical procedures, for example breast enhancements, actually require scar after-care1. Topical treatments, such as silicone gels, protect surgical scars once they have healed, helping to soften and flatten the appearance of abnormal scarring.
It is also important to support your wound healing from the inside, with proper nutrition. As Dietitian Laura Tilt explains; wound healing is complex. Not getting enough protein or other essential nutrients (like zinc or vitamin C) can delay the healing process and increase the chances of infection, which leads to a higher risk of scarring2 .So how can you get the right balance? Laura Tilt has offered her expert advice on how you can support your recovery with five top tips.
Tip 1 – Don’t diet
During the wound healing process the body uses more energy (calories) than normal. It’s therefore important to avoid dieting during recovery.3 .Eating three nutritious meals and one to two snacks daily will help deliver the energy your body needs to build new tissues. Try including high energy snacks like yoghurt smoothies, peanut butter on toast with sliced banana and milky drinks.
Tip 2 – Drink Up
Drinking plenty of fluid is important, as dehydrated skin is more fragile and prone to breakdown. Dehydration also results in less efficient blood flow to tissues, which reduces the delivery of oxygen and important nutrients to the wound. Stay hydrated by keeping a water bottle close by and taking regular drink breaks. All fluids count – including tea and coffee! But try to avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch as they affect sleep. Choosing nutritious drinks like soups, milk or fruit and yoghurt smoothies will help provide extra protein and energy. Don’t like water? Try flavouring with cucumber and orange slices.
Tip 3 – Power with Protein
Protein provides the raw materials to repair and make new tissues and cells. Not getting enough protein can delay healing by prolonging the inflammatory phase and reducing the formation of collagen4. The amount of protein you need depends on your body size. As a general guide, including a bigger than normal portion of protein rich foods (around a palm and a half size) with each meal will help provide the extra protein your body requires during wound healing.
Ideas of high protein meals and snacks include a glass of milk, scrambled eggs on toast, mackerel or baked beans on toast, jacket potato with prawns in yoghurt sauce, lentil or chickpea curry, rice pudding, or hummus and crackers.
Tip 4 – ACE a brightly coloured plate
Many vitamins and minerals are involved in the healing process, but a group of vitamins nicknamed ACE (vitamins A, C, and E) are particularly important. Vitamin A is involved in the inflammatory stage, helping immune cells migrate to the wound. Vitamin C is needed for the formation of collagen and new blood vessels and vitamin E helps to protect the recovering wound2.
Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, orange peppers, aubergines, broccoli, leafy greens, carrots, avocados, citrus fruits and berries are some of the best sources of the ACE vitamins. Aim for at least five servings of colourful fruit and vegetables a day – frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables all count!
Tip 5 – Max your minerals with nuts and seeds
Several minerals also play a role in wound healing. Zinc helps with collagen formation and new tissue growth. Iron helps deliver oxygen to the recovering tissues and copper helps form new blood vessels. Nuts and seeds are a good source of these essential minerals. Include nuts as a snack with a piece of fruit, stir them into yoghurts or use them to top cereal, porridge or soups. They can also be blended into smoothies, or try nut butter on toast.