Healing Nutrition

Soupe aux Fraises et Rhubarbe (Photo by Alison Eaves)

It’s scary thinking of my mother going through surgery. I’m especially concerned that she maintain her active life here in  Westlake Village, California. Mom has tons of friends, she volunteers at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Center, and she and Dad even work as Crossing Guards at local elementary schools. They regularly attend concerts at Hollywood Bowl (she LOVES Pink Martini),visit wineries, well, you get the idea. They may be “retired,” but they’re definitely not retired from living life!

To get her back to fighting form as soon as possible, she’s following my special “Healing Diet.” My healing diet worked beautifully after her hip replacement surgery 5 years ago; she healed quickly, and without the weight gain she dreaded. So I’m back again repeating the performance!

What you eat profoundly affects your ability to recover from surgery or heal from any injury. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, but there are general rules of thumb for maximizing your body’s ability to heal through foods.

Healing Nutrition Principles

Because you’re sick or recovering from an illness or surgery, you are inactive. That means your calorie need is usually quite low (there are exceptions), but to heal properly, your nutrient intake must be high. It’s challenging to keep calories low, yet nutrients high; but it is very do-able, and I have successfully helped many people (including my mother) recover from surgeries and illnesses without weight gain, and even some weight loss – while at the same time – healing quickly and effectively. To do this, concentrate on nutrient-dense, low calorie healing foods, eaten at regular time through the day.


Protein is one of the most important nutrients in the human body, second only to water. Protein is critical for healing. Immune function is impaired without enough. The antibodies essential to protecting your body against pathogens are made of protein. Protein builds muscle and tissue, broken down after injury or surgery.Without enough protein, your body has no chance to heal.

Certain vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, and those who already have compromised immune systems, should be particularly careful to eat enough protein – even more than the recommended dietary allowance – for maximized protection. Your protein needs should be individualized and, to maximize your body’s ability to absorb and use the protein, should be eaten in small amounts through the day. Stick with lean, low calorie protein sources since you’re not active (see examples below). Learn more about protein…

Fats and Oils

The type of fat you eat can improve healing and the effectiveness of your body’s immune response because fat ends up in all of your body’s cell walls. It acts as a cell lubricant, improves flexibility and communication between cells. If the fat you eat is saturated – solid at room temperature – as in butter or animal fat – this decreases cellular flexibility and functioning. Learn more about healthy, healing fats… Eat healthy fats at each meal, but keep your fat intake low, as fats are high in calories, and since you’re inactive, you must keep your calorie intake low.

Vitamins and Minerals
Studies show all nutrients are involved in your immune response and may help healing and tissue repair. I advise taking a multi-vitamin during your recovery to cover all your nutrient bases. But, once you are healed, the research is mixed about whether taking a multivitamin or high doses of certain nutrients improves your health. In some cases,  supplements may cause imbalances, backfire, and may actually suppress your immune response. So it’s ideal to get your vitamins and minerals from a nutrient-rich, balanced diet. Your immune system especially needs foods high in Vitamins C, D, E, B12, Zinc, Beta Carotene, and Magnesium. Try to concentrate on healing foods high in nutrients yet low in calories such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. See menu ideas below…
Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Foods
To heal properly, your body must be able to build new tissue and muscle. When we’re sick, healing, or as we age, inflammation and oxidation are often underlying causes of muscle, tissue and bone loss. Also, extra body fat leads to increased inflammation and oxidation, emerging factors in disease. So, eating anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods, which help neutralize these disease processes, is critical. Some example? Tea (explained in my Washington Post article), fruits and vegetables (see below), etc.
The good bacteria in the gut, which aids aborption of important nutrients, is reduced as we age. There is some evidence that eating more of the good bacteria, such as lactobacillus in yogurt, may help your immune response.
So, what did I feed my mother which enabled her to heal so quickly from surgery – yet lose the weight she so wanted to lose? I focused on nutrient-dense, calorie-poor foods known for their healing powers:
1) Plenty of yogurt: it’s high in protein, healing nutrients, natural probiotics and is low-cal. It’s not too much to eat yogurt for every meal, especially when you’re recovering from surgery or an illness and you may not have a great appetite,
2) Tea as the main beverage: It’s been shown to promote muscle and bone strength, and filled with healing properties.
2) Fruits or vegetables at each meal, preferably five cups or more per day, especially the “superfoods,” such as berries. Their healing powers are well-established, and if your “patient” is having trouble eating, go ahead and juice the fruits and vegetables, make yogurt- soy- or skim milk- smoothies, or make soups, so they’re easier to swallow,
3) Whole grains at breakfast, but limited extra calories such as starchy or sweet foods otherwise. Why?  She needs some of the nutrients in whole grains, but most starchy foods aren’t as high in nutrients as yogurt, fruit and vegetables – compared to their calorie content. And since Mom is necessarily quite inactive while recovering from surgery, her body cannot handle extra calories without the weight gain she dreads.
4) Since Mom has lost her appetite, I reward her with small chunks of dark chocolate (her favorite food group) after she eats her healing meals and snacks!
5) Try to get up and moving as soon as possible! Studies show walking improves your immune response and healing. It gets blood flowing – and that provides oxygen and nutrients to your cells, tissues, and organs – all necessary for proper healing. Also, physical activity is essential to protecting the bones, skin, and muscles from very quickly breaking down, which happens if you’re bed-bound for too long,
6) Some recipes I served during Mom’s recovery: “Roasted chicken with Haricots Verts,” “Kjerstin’s Chicken Salad with Fruit and Roasted Walnuts,” “Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Soup,” “Chef’s Salad with Lemony Olive Oil Vinaigrette.”
Now that Mom is doing great – she’s already walking up and down the stairs (slowly)  just one week after surgery – I’m leaving for Washington, but I’m making healthy, delicious batches so Mom and Dad can continue to eat healthfully, with easy-to-grab dishes, until Mom is ready to cook again… “Salad of Asparagus, Potatoes and a Lemony Garlic Herb Mayonnaise,” a couple of my Dad’s favorites are my “Tabouleh with Seasonal Vegetables and a Lemon Basil Vinaigrette,” and the “Chicken and Crimini Mushroom Soup.”
7) To stay in shape, I’ve been walking around Westlake’s Lake every morning at sunrise (ahem – most morning, that is!)… It’s beautiful here… Some pictures of Westlake Village scenes…

Call Katherine: 202-833-0353 or Email Her
For more fabulous tips and simple, effective ways to lose weight,
buy her book, Diet Simple!

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