The Top 6 Foods for Optimal Healing and Recovery

Mar 1, 2018

Cristina Bracamonte

by Cristina Bracamonte
PT, DPT, GCS | Marana

We all know that a well-balanced diet is a good idea, right? But do you know the current best-evidence for foods that maximize your healing and recovery from surgery or injury? There are many supplements on the market, which can be expensive but here are six easy additions to your meals or snacks that can promote your recovery and get you back quicker to your best self. As a physical therapist, I have learned that there is a significant correlation of how we fuel our bodies and their ability to heal and recover from trauma, broken bones, soft tissue injuries or surgeries.

From my humble 8 years in practice, I have been floored by my resilient patients who already have quite a bit of insight already into how to nourish their bodies. It is this population who has inspired me to learn more about nutrition and its interplay with the rehabilitative process. Here are some of the more current research supported food options that many of my patients take to promote their recovery while in physical therapy. Maybe they could help you? Physical therapists have a basic knowledge of nutrition and can advise you on your food choices to optimize your healing journey.

1. Ginger

Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-nausea compound. But it is also an analgesic which has promising research that suggests it may lessen swelling and pain related to muscle aches, headaches, Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It can also help with blood sugars and blood pressure regulation. It is generally considered safe in amounts less than 1500 mg. You can enjoy it in a tea, sweets and shredded on your stir fry or added to Indian or Asian cooking.

2. Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and fatty fish for reducing chronic inflammation. There are three main types of this form of polyunsaturated fat, EPA, DHA and ALA. Omega 3 fatty acids are showing excellent support for helping major health problems of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and RA. It is showing promising as a neuroprotectant for depression, recovery from concussions and reducing Alzheimer’s risk. Omega 3’s can help with joint pain and may even help make bones stronger. Consider snacking on walnuts, adding nuts to your breakfast cereal or yogurt and upping your fatty fish intake such as with sardines, wild-caught salmon, herring, bluefish, mackerel or lake trout.


Turmeric is a spice with the powerful anti-inflammatory component of curcumin which may have implications for chronic conditions like osteoarthritis. It can reduce swelling and inflammation and shows promise as having cancer killing properties. Add it to your salads, meat dishes and stir-fry’s.

4. Berries

Berries contain all kinds have powerful antioxidants of vitamins A, C and E, and contain resveratrol (also in red wine and dark chocolate) and flavonoids. No one berry has a complete profile, so variety is best for anti-inflammatory benefits.

5. Broccoli

Broccoli is a powerful superfood that has been shown to be have many antioxidants that reduce free radicals, that reduces telomere shortening, implicated in one theory of the aging process. So this is anti-cancer and anti-aging! It is best cooked to maximize its many micronutrients including vitamin A, C, K, folic acid as well as the minerals of potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, magnesium, calcium and iron.

 6. Peppers

Peppers contain capsaicin which is the active ingredient that controls inflammation and increases metabolism. Capsaicin has been shown to block substance P, which is associated with swelling of nerve fibers which is one of the steps in pain processing in our central nervous system. In general, the pepper’s hotness correlates with higher amounts of this powerful phytochemical.  Red peppers have the highest amount of beta-carotene and vitamin C. Popular hot peppers are chipotle, anaheim, ancho, habanero, cayenne and jalapeno.  Research is ongoing into its role in treating symptoms of arthritis, different types of headaches, bacterial infections and autoimmune conditions such as IBS.

In conclusion, there is always more to learn from ancient traditions, folk remedies that have promise under the rigorous of modern study. I encourage you to talk with your therapists today about healthier food choices to improve your health journey.

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