Foods that heal - Women's Running Magazine

Foods that heal

Author: Christine Bailey

Read Time:   |  May 30, 2017

foods that heal

It’s no fun being injured. If you’ve been fighting your way through an injury or experience ongoing muscle strain and pain after training then its time to take action. Making simple changes to your diet provides the healthiest alternative to pill popping. In fact recent research suggests that inflammation, which accompanies an injury, is an important part of the healing process. While non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen may have their place, research suggests that they can in fact delay the healing process.

A more effective approach is to include foods that modulate the immune response and encourage healing while avoiding foods that may hinder your recovery. For example foods high in sugar including white refined foods (breads, flours, cakes, biscuits, pastas, white rice) actually promote the production of inflammatory compounds. Similarly an imbalance in fats can exacerbate inflammation especially if your diet is high in trans fats and saturated fats (e.g fried foods, fatty meats, full-fat dairy). Protein is particularly important for the healing process but focus more on poultry and fish rather than red meats, which may be more inflammatory. Make sure your diet is loaded with antioxidant rich vegetables and fruits.

Making up green smoothies, soups or snacking on berries is an easy way to increase your intake. Be mindful too of any foods you may be allergic to. Gluten in particular can promote inflammation for some people. If you’re looking to optimise your diet for healing then try these foods:

foods that heal

Oily Fish

Salmon, mackerel, sardines and anchovies are all rich in omega 3 fatty acids. These produce anti-inflammatory compounds known as prostaglandins PGE3, which help lower inflammation. They also provide plenty of protein important for the healing process and vitamin D, which is not only important for bone health but also has an immune modulation role helping to regulate
inflammation in your body.

foods that heal

Numerous research studies support the use of turmeric as a natural anti-inflammatory. The active ingredient, curcumin, works by inhibiting COX 2 enzymes to reduce pain and ongoing inflammation. Add a dash of turmeric to your meals with a little oil and black pepper to enhance its absorption.

foods that heal


Rich in quercetin, a type of flavonoid (plant nutrient), shown to reduce inflammatory compounds. Other good sources of quercetin include capers, broccoli, blueberries, apple and cocoa powder.

foods that heal


Monounsaturated fats found in avocado and olive oil can support healing by inhibiting the production of an inflammatory compound known as interleukin-6. Avocados are also packed with potassium, an electrolyte, which can help prevent cramping. Studies have shown that adding avocado to your salad helps you absorb more carotenoids antioxidant molecules, which help protect your body against free radical damage.

foods that heal

Pineapple and Papaya

These tropical fruits contain enzymes – bromelain and papain – with well-known anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown they can be effective in treating sprains and strains and reducing swelling, tenderness and pain. These fruits are rich in vitamin C, which helps repair and build tissue and is essential for the synthesis of collagen – needed for the maintenance of healthy
cartilage and bone.

foods that heal


When you’re injured your demand for protein increases. So focus on high-quality protein sources like chicken. Poultry is also rich in zinc which is needed for the healing process helping to promote growth and healing of tissue.

foods that heal


Ginger root contains a number of active compounds, volatile oils and phenols (e.g. gingerols and shogaols) that have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. Recent research has shown that daily ginger supplementation reduced exercise-induced pain by 25 per cent. Try adding some pickled ginger to sushi or adding root ginger to curries and soups.

foods that heal


Berries, tart cherries and red grapes are rich in anythocyanins, a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce the effects of muscle damage. Blueberries and red grapes are also rich in the antioxidant resveratrol as well as providing plenty of vitamin C, K and manganese to support bone health.

foods that heal

Green tea

Known for its antioxidant protective properties. Green tea contains certain phytochemicals that appear to help fight inflammation and support joint health. Delicious hot or made into an iced drink post exercise. For a real boost use matcha green tea powder.

foods that heal


If you’re suffering from a stress fracture try including a cup of low-fat natural yoghurt. Rich in calcium and vitamin D for bone support plus probiotics shown to support immune health and lower inflammation.


Christine Bailey

Award-winning nutritionist and regular WR freelance contributor

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