The road to recovery

By Polly Rea

The road to recovery
While often life-saving, undergoing surgery can be traumatic to the body. Consuming particular foods may aid your recovery and boost your wellbeing.

Modern medicine is unmatched in its ability to perform procedures that may save a persons life or greatly improve its quality. While important that any surgery is performed as a last resort, there is no denying it may be the key to successfully treating many individuals. Nutritional Medicine plays a vital role in optimising recovery from these procedures with diet greatly influencing surgery outcome and recovery time, while also reducing the risk of secondary infection.

Surgical intervention brings the outside environment in contact with our internal organs, a sensitive and reactive environment. Regardless of the location or type of surgery, be it major or minor, inflammation will result due to the body’s natural mechanism to protect and repair itself. Reducing inflammation post surgery is therefore most important to recovery.

Consuming a diet based on whole, predominately plant-based foods will optimise intake of flavonoids. Flavonoids such as bromelain and quercetin are plant based molecules that demonstrate strong anti-inflammatory action. They are responsible for giving colour to many fruits and vegetables, such as berries and citrus fruits. Turmeric and Ginger both demonstrate strong anti-inflammatory action and can be added to almost any meal for flavouring, in place of sugar dense bottle sauces.

In addition to plant based foods, it is most important to consume adequate protein. This is essential to tissue repair. Protein is the building block to our tissues and it’s role in the body is to regenerate and repair. In order to optimise tissue repair post surgery, include lean protein with all meals.

Loss of appetite post surgery can be common, however it is important to ensure adequate caloric intake in order to reduce muscle loss. Having small meals throughout the day is best. Ensuring optimal zinc levels will hep to return a normal appetite. Zinc is also essential for skin repair and plays a vital role in healing. Low zinc levels can present with low appetite and also a reduction in the taste of foods. Oysters, nuts, seeds and wheatgerm are all high in zinc.

Keep healthy snacks on hand and easily accessible for when appetite returns, to reduce the risk of eating highly processed foods that lack nutrients and promote inflammation.

Foods such as soups or hot pots and stews that are well cooked will be gentle on digestion. While raw foods are high in nutrients they require a lot of work to break down. Cooking foods first will reduce the workloads on a potentially sensitive digestive system. Freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices or smoothies are another good way to keep nutrient intake high and digestive workload low.

Including fats in the diet will provide necessary calories that may be reduced due to a low appetite. Weigh loss due to low calorie intake is usually the loss of muscle and therefore best avoided. Fats also allow for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A and E which are essential for healing. Vitamin A will help with tissue repair while also reducing the risk of secondary infection by protecting mucous membranes, the body’s fist line of defence. Vitamin E is a key anti-oxidant that will reduce inflammation and aid skin repair.

Essential fatty acids are important in helping the skin to repair as well reducing inflammation. Including salmon, seeds and nuts will provide good amounts of essential fatty acids. Oils such as olive, flaxseed, macadamia or avocado can be poured over meals before serving.

Most surgical procedures require the use of anaesthesia, either local or general. It is not uncommon for patients to react to this with many experiencing nausea and in some cases vomiting as it wears off. Like all drugs, anaesthetics are processed through the liver. Ensuring a healthy liver before surgery will encourage easier clearing of the anaesthetic. Simply having freshly squeezed lemon juice in warm water first thing in the morning will facilitate the clearance of these drugs and should help to reduce its associated symptoms. This can be done both before and after surgery.

Minerals are also important post surgery. Keeping iron stores high pre surgery will reduce the risk of low iron due to any blood lost. Iron is also involved in the immune system playing a significant role in reducing the risk of infection.

Pharmaceutical drugs including anaesthesia and pain killers have a detrimental impact on the balance of bacteria in the digestive tract. In order to maintain optimal balance of bacteria it is best to include probiotics pre and post surgery. By keeping the balance of bacteria immune function is optimised post surgery, as is the ability to break down and absorb nutrients from foods

In order to avoid constipation, commonly associated with pain medication and many other pharmaceutical drugs post surgery it is important to keep water intake up. Sipping small amounts throughout the day will help. Whole fresh fruit and vegetables will also keep the bowels moving.

6 foods


A rich source of Vitamin E and Essential Fatty acids as well as calcium, this spread makes a great choice as a savoury topping on toast or crackers. The vitamin E will aid skin repair and reduce scarring, while essential fatty acids will reduce inflammation.

Aloe Vera Juice

The Aloe Very plant is well known for it’s healing properties. When consumed as a juice, it’s benefits extend beyond the skins providing systemic anti-inflammation activity as well as acting as a prebiotic helping to restore any disruption to the gut flora.


These morish seeds provide a high intake of zinc which is essential for skin repair as well as ensuring a return to normal appetite post surgery. To soften their impact on digestion, grind them in a pestle and mortar and add to smoothies, sprinkle over salads or stir into yoghurt.

Lemon Juice

Start the days following surgery with a fresh squeeze of lemon in warm water to help clear the liver of any anesthetic or other surgery associated medication. Introducing this daily ritual pre surgery is even better!

Red Capsicum

One of the highest sources of vitamin C, this sweet tasting vegetable brightens up any dish. The high vitamin C content will ensure healthy connective tissue repair following all surgeries. A great addition to an easy stir-fry or blend it into a soup for extra sweetness.

Dandelion Root Tea

Dandelion root tea helps to produce the body’s natural laxative, bile, while also clearing congestion from the liver. Not only does it clear the anesthetic from the liver but it also keeps the bowel moving ensuring all liver waste is removed from the body. Swap your coffee for a dandelion latte for a speedier recovery.




Print Recipe


Let us keep you up to date with our weekly MiNDFOOD e-newsletters which include the weekly menu plan, health and news updates or tempt your taste buds with the MiNDFOOD Daily Recipe. 

Member Login