Health Topics Surgical Recovery and Wound Healing

The Basics


Most of us will undergo some type of surgical procedure in our lifetime. It can range from minor outpatient procedures like arthroscopic surgery, to major surgery like heart bypass. And with the growing number of people suffering from diabetes, chronic wounds and amputations are also on the rise. But however extensive the operation, AFTER surgery is when the real challenges begin and the risk of complications skyrocket. Those complications include postoperative infections, non-healing wounds, excessive pain, and blood clots. This is because surgery puts a large amount of stress on the body and increases oxidative load and free radical production.

FoodTherapyMD’s post-op healing plant-based nutrition plan achieves the following goals:

  1. Decrease inflammation thereby reducing pain and improving wound healing.
  2. Boost immune system function so the body can fight off and prevent infection.
  3. Increase blood flow in the vessels supplying the organs and the skin. Adequate blood flow is vital to wound healing and preventing infection. Any inflammatory foods that constrict and damage the sensitive lining of the blood vessels (called the endothelium), impedes the healing process because less blood, oxygen, and nutrients can be delivered to the wound. Inflammation in the blood vessels also activate the clotting cascade, which makes you more prone to blood clots.
  4. Regulate blood sugar levels. This applies to everyone, even if you are not diabetic. High blood sugar spikes that you get when you consume foods like processed white flour, processed sugars, and junk food, trigger an inflammatory process that delays healing and makes infection more likely.

The Fix


Good post-operative recovery and wound healing centers around whole plant foods, unrefined or minimally refined, with high levels of plant-based proteins. It is the variety of phytonutrients in plant foods that are responsible for decreasing inflammation, stopping oxidative stress, and boosting the immune system. All of this results in better healing, less infection, and faster recovery.

Although all plants contain phytonutrients, there are some specific vegetables and fruits that have unique properties that make them excellent for healing after surgery.


Cruciferous veggies: These are foods like cabbage, kale, collard and mustard greens, broccoli, radishes, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, brussels sprouts, watercress. These are the most micronutrient dense vegetables in existence. They have incredible immune boosting properties, including increasing the body’s resistance to bacterial infections, and eliminating oxidative stress and inflammation that occurs after surgery or with chronic wounds. It is the inflammatory process that promotes stickiness on the inner lining of the blood vessels (called the endothelium) so these amazing foods may also help to inhibit blood clots.

Nitrate veggies: Vegetables that are high in natural nitrates relax the walls of the blood vessels, thereby increasing blood flow and improving the function of the endothelium (the sensitive lining of the blood vessels). The vegetables highest in nitrates are swiss chard, oak leaf lettuce, beets, arugula, and basil, but all green leafy veggies share these anti-inflammatory and vessel protecting properties.

Garlic: Garlic is an “allium” vegetable (along with onions, leeks, and scallions) and is a very potent anti-inflammatory and immune strengthening plant. In addition, garlic has potent anti-bacterial properties and helps prevent post-operative infections.

Turmeric: Turmeric contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds, including COX-2 inhibitors. The COX-2 enzyme promotes pain and inflammation, so blocking this enzyme effectively promotes healing and reduces pain. (Pharmaceutical companies make synthetic COX-2 inhibitors like the drug Celebrex, but turmeric is without the side effects).

Ginger: Ginger has been recognized as a powerful anti inflammatory plant for hundreds of years, and is effective in reducing the pain that inflammation causes. Studies have also shown its ability to reduce nausea, especially in patients undergoing chemotherapy and in post-surgical patients.

Protein: Protein is important for wound healing and repairing injured tissue. And after surgery, many people have increased protein requirements due to fluid leaking from the affected surgical area. But PLANT protein is always superior to animal protein. This is because animal products, although a great source of protein, are also very inflammatory, cause oxidative stress, and cause the lining of the blood vessels to constrict and become sticky, which inhibits blood flow and promotes the clotting cascade. (you can read more on meat and inflammation here ) This plan focuses on adding high protein plants to the diet every day, such as lima beans, green peas, black beans, spinach, lentils, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, edamame, hemp seeds/hemp milk, black-eyed-peas, and non-dairy plant based protein powder.

Green tea/chamomile tea: Green tea and chamomile tea have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that enhance the healing process. They contain flavonoids, phenols, and catechins which aid in the prevention of bacterial infections, decrease clotting, and also help to regulate blood sugar.

Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that helps the body maintain skin integrity and also aids in forming new, healthy tissue. This is why it is so important to wound healing. Plants high in zinc include beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, lentils), nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin, sunflower, walnuts, almonds, pecans, hemp), and oatmeal. Fish is also a great source of zinc, but shouldn’t be eaten every day.

What NOT to eat: Ensure®, Boost®, or any other “nutritional” drink supplement, processed sugar, processed white flour, white rice or white pasta, dairy, processed meat/bacon/sausage, or red meat. For more information on the dangers of “nutritional” supplement drinks, follow the link (Small amounts of fish, egg whites, or white-meat poultry, although not necessary, can be eaten but no more than twice a week, and limited to 10% of your daily caloric intake.)

The Plan


Here are a few examples of how we use phytonutrient-rich, plant-based recipes to help assist in surgical recovery and wound healing. You can also find a downloadable, detailed guide for post-operative nutrition on the main menu under “Nutrition Plans”.

Greens ’N Protein Smoothie

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 handful swiss chard
  • 2 dates
  • 1 cup hemp milk (or other nondairy milk like soy or almond). May add more for consistency
  • 2 teaspoons nondairy protein powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder

Healin’ Juice:

  • 6 ounces arugula juice
  • 6 ounces beet juice
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger root
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 fuji apple

Juice in a cold press juicer and enjoy! (More on how to select a juicer here )

Black bean rice and veggie salad

Veggie burger with quinoa and black beans

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

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