Healthy eating: Foods that help your body heal

Food as medicine is a theme that is becoming more popular. It’s similar to the adage “you are what you eat.” If you eat hamburgers and french fries everyday your body will feel the effects in the long run…you won’t turn into a hamburger nor a french fry. Thinking about what we consume becomes more important as we age. I just celebrated a big birthday recently. It gave me pause to think about my future. I am entering new territory as a cancer survivor who had less than a 25% chance to live beyond five years, much less 10 years! Wow!

So I think about food as medicine quite often since the legacy of cancer has left me with some chronic health issues. The cancer may be gone, but in it’s place my body has had to adapt to a new normal. Most people think that everything is just fine when the treatment is over. This is not the case for most cancer survivors. Some people obsess about the food that they eat. Sometimes I think that I should obsess more, but frankly I am a busy person and do the best that I can. I make almost everything from scratch. I think this puts me in touch with all of my ingredients and I know what is in my food without having to read a food label. Some people choose to cut out certain ingredients. No sugar. No wheat. No bread of any kind. No alcohol. No dairy products. No pasta. No carbs. The “NO” list can be quite lengthy. I attempt to do the best that I can especially because I am cooking for my entire household.

I think that one’s diet is an individualized affair. Everyone’s system is different. What I can tolerate you may not be able to tolerate. This type of thinking has been coming up quite often in my mind because I am facing another surgery (yes another surgery just four months after my last surgery) to help repair my body and get it to work better. It’s a big step. I have tried all of the other steps. Natural approaches. Diet changes. The “better living through chemistry” (prescription drugs) approach. For the past decade nothing has worked and things have only gotten worse. That means post surgery I have to be very careful about what I eat for 8 to 12 weeks.

Since I have an upcoming surgery, I want a safe procedure (watching medical shows on television scares me right now!), a quick recovery and a successful outcome. What I will eat after I get home is on my mind because I need to plan ahead. If I want to heal quickly and reap the full benefits of my procedure, then my diet after surgery is a priority.

Good nutrition and optimal healing are inseparable.

Good nutrition that provides enough calories and nutrients is essential after surgery because the body has increased needs to support recovery. The best foods to eat are packed with vitamins and minerals that will decrease the risk of infection, accelerate healing, increase strength and energy.

Having surgery isn’t too different from completing an endurance event. You will be sore and tired for several days–the last thing you’ll feel like doing is cooking. Tack onto that any restrictions on activity, and you have a recipe for ordering takeout, or not eating at all. You can easily avoid this pitfall by prepping healthy meals before your procedure and popping them into the freezer. One of my favorite recipes that I have shared in this column is “Magic Mineral Broth.” This is a wonderful make-ahead recipe and it can be frozen in small containers.

Another quick meal that will be my main source of nutrition (due to the nature of my procedure) is a smoothie or protein shake. Protein shakes can be a fantastic meal replacement, and are easy to customize to your taste and dietary preferences. But since most packaged shake mixes are bogged down with sugar and artificial flavors, and don’t taste great either, I suggest making your own instead.

Here is a “formula” to ensure a good balance of nutrients to fuel the healing process:

Liquid base (8 to 14 oz.) Purified water, freshly squeezed juice or unsweetened almond milk are good options.

Protein (20 to 30 grams) Choose a high quality protein powder such as whey, pea, rice or hemp.

Healthy carbs (½ cup each) A blend of fruits and veggies are best (such as mixed berries and leafy greens) to maximize micro-nutrient intake and minimize sugar content.

Healthy fats (1 to 2 tablespoons) Nut butter, coconut oil, avocado, etc.

Fiber (1 tablespoon) ground flaxseeds or chia seeds.

Spices (to taste) Adding spices like cinnamon, ginger, turmeric or even cacao to your smoothie can perk up the flavor and add antioxidants.

Buy your ingredients before your procedure. Then chop, portion and freeze (if necessary) the fruits and veggies you want to include, and portion out the fats, fiber and spices you want to include so all you have to do after surgery is throw the ingredients in a blender and drink.

There’s a big difference between healing and healing well. Ignore your diet, and your healing process will be slower, your risk for complications may increase, and you won’t feel as good. Eat the right foods in the right amount, and you will bounce back more quickly and improve your overall health in the process.

Healing Smoothie
It’s no secret that what you put in your body before, during, and after surgery can have an impact on how you heal and how long it takes. This recipe can aid in incision healing, help nourish your body with essential vitamins and minerals, and even offset nausea from pain medication.

1 apple, cored but unpeeled
1 cup fresh pineapple
1 banana
1/2 tsp fresh minced ginger
2 celery stalks
2 big handfuls of your preferred leafy green (kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
1 cup of frozen or fresh mixed berries
Scoop of protein powder
1 cup water
Optional additions:
1) Ice can make it a cool, refreshing treat.
2) I recommend using organic ingredients if possible.
Throw everything in the blender, blend until smooth Not only is this smoothie healthy, it’s also tasty! Drink immediately or store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to two days.

— By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at

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