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Artistic rendition of a vegetable-filled pill on the end of a forkHealthy eating
Eating to heal
Certain foods can speed your recovery
from illness or injury
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Veena Gorkoff
May/June 2018

Most people know they can enhance their health and well-being by eating a balanced diet.

But did you know that eating well can also help you recover more quickly from sickness or injury?

The reason is simple. People recovering from health challenges - whether it be fighting the flu or recovering from a broken leg - require more energy than they would if they were otherwise healthy.

Of course, not just any form of energy will do. It must be nutrient-rich energy, the kind that comes from eating the right types and amounts of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

That's one reason why health-care providers in hospitals and clinics often turn to registered dietitians for nutrition advice. Dietitians can provide patients with the nutritional information they need to power up and recover more quickly.

The Youville Centre offers a case in point.

The centre provides support for patients with Type 2 diabetes, a condition that hampers an individual's ability to produce the insulin required to regulate glucose. Left unchecked, high glucose levels can lead to various health issues, including blindness, loss of sensation in limbs, amputation, heart disease and kidney disease.

Generally speaking, patients with diabetes are treated with medications and/or insulin injections, but diet is also important. At the Youville Centre, registered dietitians work with nurses, physicians and counsellors to provide patients and clients with the nutritional advice they need to keep their Type 2 diabetes in check. For example, they might advise an individual with Type 2 diabetes to include more vegetables (at least half your plate), whole grains, and leaner meats, cheese and dairy, or vegetarian proteins as part of their meals.

Photo rendition of an apple bursting with vitamins

Of course, you can also take steps at home to unlock the healing power of food. Whether you are managing a chronic condition like Type 2 diabetes or recovering from a broken leg, certain foods will help you heal faster. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Focus on carbs: As the body's main source of fuel, carbohydrates provide the energy your body needs to recover more quickly from illness or injury. But it is important to consume the right types of carbohydrates. Choose whole grain brown rice and whole wheat/grain pastas and cereals, as well as whole fruit with skins such as apples, pears and berries. Not only will these foods give you more energy throughout the day, they will also provide you with the fibre needed to keep cholesterol and blood sugar values balanced. Keep portions to about the size of your fist.

Protein is crucial: A balanced diet that includes ample amounts of protein is crucial when recovering from sickness or injury. In addition to building bones, tissue and cartilage, it also helps prevent infection. Good sources of protein include eggs, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), tofu, nuts and seeds, and peanut butter/nut butters. Other foods, including milk, cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry and meat, are also good sources of protein. Visit www.cookspiration.com for more ideas on healthy meals.

Healthy fats: Positive mental health can promote healing by helping you cope with the normal stresses of life. To boost your spirits as you recover from illness or injury, include foods such as salmon (rich in Omega 3's), avocados and olive oil. If feeling restless at night, include nuts such as walnuts or almonds that help to promote sleep.

Key vitamins and minerals: Various vitamins and minerals play a role in the healing process. Vitamin C, for example, can prevent infections by boosting your immune system. It can be found in numerous fruits and vegetables, including oranges, pineapples, and red and green peppers. (Cooking peppers increases the amount of vitamin C.) Vitamin A, meanwhile, can heal wounds and promote healthy vision. Good sources include carrots and sweet potatoes. Minerals such as iron and zinc also support the healing process by promoting growth and cell development. These minerals are found in many protein-containing foods, including meats, fish, poultry, grains and vegetables.

These are just a few examples of how you can unlock the healing power of food. To learn more, speak to a registered dietitian or call Dial-a-Dietitian at (204) 788-8248. They can provide you with the nutritional information you need to help you heal from your sickness or injury as quickly as possible.

Veena Gorkoff is a registered dietitian with the Youville Community Health Centre.

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