When managing wound healing you are often told to clean the area regularly, get plenty of rest, etc. So, where does your diet come in? The food you eat has a huge impact on how quickly and efficiently your body heals. Faster healing is important because slow-healing wounds leave your body vulnerable to infections which may stall or completely halt the healing process.
Learning the role of nutrition in wound care allows you to make good dietary decisions and ensure your healing stays on schedule.
Constructing Your Diet Plan
The available information on nutrition and its role in wound healing can be overwhelming. If you find this the case, here is a very brief day-to-day portion guide:
- 3-4 servings protein
- 2 servings fruit
- 2 servings vegetables
- 3-4 servings of grains
- Plenty of fluids
For a guide on what ‘one serving’ means, click here.
When choosing what specific foods and meals to fit into this very basic outline, first look at what fits into your budget and schedule. During wound healing you may find yourself more tired than you are used to – so don’t decide on an elaborate and labor-intensive meal plan that will exhaust you. Try having a good variety of different foods to make sure your body gets all the different nutrients that it needs during wound healing.
If you have diabetes, this may affect how your body handles wound care. Keep the variety of foods high while monitoring your blood sugar levels and ensuring they stay healthy.
Now – what foods fit into this very simple outline? Wound healing is an anabolic process, meaning it results in the synthesis of new cells. For this synthesis to happen, your body requires higher levels of both micro- and macronutrients than usual.
Macronutrients And Where To Find Them
Macronutrients are the nutrients the body requires in larger amounts, and include:
Probably the most important macronutrient in wound healing is protein, which is used in each stage of the healing process. Protein stores are often diminished or completely lost due to reduced daily intake or excessive daily loss via wound drainage. The usual average recommended protein intake is 0.8 grams per 24 hours, but this jumps to between 1.25 and 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight when supporting wound healing (250% higher than usual!)
Protein can be found in:
- Lean meat (fish, poultry)
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Beans and legumes (chickpeas, lentils)
- Seeds and nuts
- Soy products (tofu, soy milk)
Protein drives several factors in the inflammatory phase of healing – meaning that if the body does not have enough protein, the inflammatory phase will be prolonged.
Carbohydrates provide around 4 kcal per gram after being converted to glucose (the body’s main energy source). Glucose provides energy for leukocytes and white blood cells, as well as stimulates the growth of fibroblast (cells found in connective tissue, which play a critical role in wound healing).
You can get carbohydrates from the following foods:
- Whole fruits (apples, bananas)
- Seeds (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds)
- Whole grains (oats, quinoa, brown rice)
When the body runs out of energy from carbohydrates, it pulls energy from fats. Fats provide around 9kcal per gram. Without enough fat stores, the body will pull energy from bones or tissue – which will completely halt the healing process.
Some good sources of fat include:
- Peanut Butter
- Fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna)
Micronutrients And Where To Find Them
Micronutrients are the nutrients your body needs smaller amounts of, but this does not diminish their importance. These are of particular importance when it comes to open wounds.
Key micronutrients in wound healing include:
Vitamin A is used to help produce soft tissue and skin and plays a vital role in immune function by helping guard the body against infection.
You can find vitamin A in:
- Cod liver oil
- Orange/yellow fruit and vegetables (bell peppers, oranges)
- Most dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli)
Vitamin C is used in the proliferative phase of healing, by helping fibroblasts produce collagen.
You can find vitamin C in:
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit)
- More ‘tropical’ fruits (kiwi, guava, papaya, lychee)
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin K is an essential component in blood clotting, which is important in progressing from one stage of wound healing to the next.
You can find vitamin K in:
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, romaine, collards)
- Brussels sprouts
If you are on blood-thinning medication, be sure to check with your doctor before increasing your vitamin K intake, as vitamin K can decrease the effectiveness of blood thinners.
Zinc plays an essential role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins – in essence, zinc helps your body process a majority of the macronutrients you feed it. Your body cannot store zinc, so it is important to eat enough zinc-rich foods every day.
You can find zinc in:
- All meat (red meat – lamb, bacon, beef; white meat – poultry, fish)
- Shellfish (oysters, crab, mussels)
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans)
Zinc deficiency is very common in vegetarians and vegans since legumes and whole grains bind to zinc in the body, which decreases zinc absorption. Heating, fermenting or soaking plant sources of zinc can help reduce the binding that happens – increasing zinc absorption.
Selenium helps reduce inflammation in the body by lowering oxidative stress.
You can find selenium in:
- Meat (both red meat and white meat)
At the end of the day, your diet plan needs to serve its function – which is to help your body get the nutrients it needs to heal efficiently and quickly. Your dietary needs will look completely different from anyone else’s. This is why it is so important to get your doctor’s help and advice when you construct your diet plan.