12 Foods that Speed Up Recovery After Surgery

Successful recovery from any surgery is highly contingent on the body’s ability to control inflammation. This is a normal response and is essentially the body’s chief defense mechanism. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and generally include swelling, pain, and loss of function. In spite of these undesirable effects, the inflammatory response must be triggered for adequate healing. It just needs to be managed properly.

While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen are typically prescribed to manage the body’s inflammatory response, the foods you eat can also make a real difference.

In fact, many foods are natural anti-inflammatories, providing a broad range of powerful compounds known to help keep inflammation in check. Having undergone three major surgeries over a 7-year period, I honestly believe that the strategic food choices I made after each played a part in my being one of those patients who healed faster than my surgeons predicted.

Now, there’s a laundry list of proven anti-inflammatory foods, but the following 12 can be especially beneficial for controlling surgery-induced inflammation helping to speed up healing and recovery time.

Leafy Green Vegetables

Whether kale, spinach or broccoli, leafy green vegetables are among the richest sources of antioxidants including beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the trace mineral copper. Owing to the collective presence of these antioxidants, eating leafy greens can naturally boost immunity and reduce inflammation associated with free-radical damage and oxidative stress, both of which are common occurrences after surgery.

RECIPE: Rubbed Kale with Butternut Squash

Yellow Bell Pepper

Bell peppers are also at the top of the list of anti-inflammatory foods, as they’re incredibly rich in the water-soluble antioxidant vitamin C, which, in and of itself, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Notably, high levels of vitamin C help speed the healing process of surgical wounds. Of all color varieties, yellow is best! Amazingly, one large yellow bell pepper contains over 500% of a day’s worth of vitamin C.

RECIPE: Turkey and Mushroom Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

Avocado

For faster recovery from any surgery, the avocado fruit is one of the most potent anti-inflammatory foods you can eat. In addition to its rich content of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are naturally anti-inflammatory, avocado also contains specialized compounds called sterols (or phytosterols) that have been shown to support healthy inflammation, reduce pain symptoms, and enhance immune function.

RECIPE: Shrimp and Romaine Salad with Avocado

Allium Vegetables

Less recognized by their classification, alliums include garlic, onions, leeks, chives, scallions and shallots, each of which can be beneficial when eaten after (and even prior to) surgery. These vegetables all contain a specific flavonoid called quercetin. Quercetin is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps stabilize histamine-releasing cells in the body in ways that support pain management during healing and recovery.

RECIPE: Garlicky Teriyaki Shrimp and Vegetable Stir Fry

Salmon

Eating salmon can be especially beneficial for speeding up recovery after surgery. In addition to its wide presence of omega-3 fatty acids and high-quality protein, salmon contains a rich cocktail of anti-inflammatory nutrients like vitamin E, copper, zinc and selenium, all of which function as potent antioxidants as well. When choosing salmon, it’s best to opt for wild-caught (Pacific) varieties like king, sockeye, or coho.

RECIPE: Herb-Crusted Wild Salmon with Sautéed Bok Choy and Mushrooms

Almonds

Eating a small handful of almonds can supply an abundance of anti-inflammatory nutrition. Not only are almonds jam-packed with the monounsaturated fatty acids that support healthy inflammation, but they also contain hefty doses of antioxidants like vitamin E and copper, which collectively help reduce swelling and speed the overall healing time for surgical wounds.

RECIPE: Almond Chicken with Peaches and Roquefort

Pineapple

Consuming pineapple is an excellent way to keep post-surgery inflammation in check. In addition to being a rich source of vitamin C and copper, pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain has been shown to reduce swelling and alleviate pain following surgical procedures while also helping to accelerate the wound healing process. Fresh pineapple is best as bromelain is destroyed by heat during canning.

RECIPE: Baked Sockeye Salmon with Mango Pineapple Salsa

Kefir

Made by adding kefir grains to cow’s or goat’s milk, kefir is essentially a cultured drink that has a similar taste and nutritional profile to that of yogurt. Due to its exceptionally high content of probiotics, kefir is especially beneficial for post-surgery nutrition. Probiotics can help prevent excessive inflammation after surgery and may also help support the body’s immune system cells that fight off post-surgery infection.

RECIPE: Chocolate Cherry Macadamia Smoothie

Blueberries

Berries are inherently full of health-promoting nutrients, but blueberries have especially strong anti-inflammatory benefits. Notably, they house very large quantities of flavonoids like anthocyanins and flavanols, which collectively work to counter excessive inflammation in ways that stimulate the healing and recovery process. Blueberries are also a good source of vitamin K, manganese, and the potent antioxidant vitamin C.

RECIPE: The Purple Cookie High-Protein Smoothie

Whole Eggs

Though often shunned, the yolks of eggs have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects so consider including whole eggs in your post-surgery diet. Egg yolks are exceptionally rich in selenium, an antioxidant that’s been shown to reduce post-surgery swelling and promote recovery. They also contain the amino acids methionine and cysteine. These amino acids work together to help ease inflammation, reduce pain, and support healing.

RECIPE: A Nutrient-Packed Chopped Salad with Creamy Honey Mustard Dressing

Whole Oats

The anti-inflammatory compounds found in whole oats are surprisingly powerful and potent among which include vitamin E, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and manganese. Notably, just half a cup of cooked oats contains nearly a day’s worth of manganese, which itself aids in post-surgery recovery by supporting the wound healing process. For maximum benefits, go for rolled (old-fashioned) or steel-cut oats whenever possible.

RECIPE: Chocoholic Chocolate Brownie Oatmeal

Water

As water aids in every stage of the inflammatory process, proper hydration is a crucial part of post-surgery recovery. A constant supply of water is also needed for adequate metabolism of anti-inflammatory foods. Since a significant amount of water is lost each day through urine, bowel movements and sweat, the body’s water supply must be continuously replenished in order to avoid dehydration.

Related Article: A Great Way To Spice Up Your Water

Good nutrition and food choices undoubtedly support adequate healing and recovery after surgery. Due to their powerful anti-inflammatory effects, the 12 foods I’ve highlighted here are indeed top choices. Although such foods can help, your specific dietary needs may still depend on the type of surgery you undergo. Therefore, it’s always best to consult with your physician to determine which foods are right for you.