Whether you’re recovering from an illness or surgery, the foods and beverages you consume can either help or hinder your recovery.
Many foods, including fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and protein sources, have been shown to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, promote healing, and provide the fuel necessary for you to get on the mend.
Here are 10 healing foods that can help your body recover.
1. Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and Swiss chard are packed with nutrients that decrease inflammation, enhance immune function, and improve wound healing, making them the perfect choice to promote recovery.
In fact, research shows that certain polyphenols, including the antioxidant quercetin, that are concentrated in green leafy veggies, may help suppress the production of inflammatory proteins like TNF-alpha (5).
What’s more, vitamin C is essential for wound healing, making leafy greens a good choice when recuperating after surgery (6).
Following surgery, your body needs significantly more protein than the current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight.
The American Society for Enhanced Recovery recommends 0.7–0.9 grams of protein per pound (1.5–2 grams per kg) of body weight after surgery. That equals 105–135 grams for a 150-pound (68-kg) person (7).
Whole eggs contain vitamins A and B12, as well as zinc, iron, and selenium, all of which play vital immune roles (1).
Salmon is packed with protein, B vitamins, selenium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fats (9).
What’s more, studies show that its omega-3 fats may promote wound healing, enhance immune response, and reduce inflammation when taken in supplement form (10).
Although eating salmon is likely safe, you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking fish oil supplements before or after surgery. Recent research indicates that these supplements don’t increase bleeding risk, but some surgeons advise against fish oil anyway (12).
Berries are brimming with nutrients and plant compounds that can help support your body’s recovery.
For instance, berries provide ample vitamin C, which promotes wound healing by stimulating the production of collagen — the most abundant protein in your body (13).
They also pack antioxidants like anthocyanins, which are plant pigments that give berries their vibrant color, in addition to providing anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and immune-supporting effects (14, 15, 16, 17).
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds like almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds are a great choice for fueling your body during the recovery process. These foods provide plant-based protein, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals that support healing.
For example, nuts and seeds are a good source of zinc, vitamin E, manganese, and magnesium. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in your body, protecting against cellular damage. It’s also critical for immune health (18).
Specific amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, play important roles in wound healing and immune function.
What’s more, arginine is rapidly depleted during times of stress, injury, and illness, making adequate intake of this amino acid all the more important (23).
7. Organ meats
Organ meats are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. They boast many immune-supportive nutrients, including vitamin A, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and copper, which is needed for the production of connective tissue and collagen (24, 25).
Additionally, organ meats are an excellent source of protein, which is necessary for recovery after surgery and illness.
8. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale are well known for their impressive health benefits. They may support recovery thanks to their wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Cruciferous veggies contain glucosinolates, which are compounds that your body converts into isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates have been shown to promote immune health by suppressing inflammation, activating immune defenses, and inducing death in infected cells (27).
Shellfish like oysters, mussels, and clams are loaded with nutrients — especially zinc — that may promote recovery.
10. Sweet potatoes
Eating healthy high carb foods, such as sweet potatoes, is important for recovery. Carbs not only provide the energy your cells require for healing but also enzymes like hexokinase and citrate synthase, which aid wound repair (33).
In fact, inadequate carb intake may impair wound healing and delay recovery (34).
Sweet potatoes are nutritious carb sources that are packed with anti-inflammatory plant compounds, vitamins, and minerals — including vitamin C, carotenoids, and manganese — that may optimize immune response and help your body recover (35).
Other Ways To Help Your Body Heal
In addition to following a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods, other lifestyle modifications may support healing.
Rest is essential when recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery. Plus, getting enough sleep bolsters your body’s repair process.
Additionally, you should steer clear of cigarettes and alcohol when recuperating from illness or injury. Smoking and drinking can delay recovery, impair wound healing, and suppress your immune system (40, 41, 42, 43).
The Bottom Line
When recovering from illness or surgery, you should fuel your body with foods that are high in nutrients and compounds that promote healing.