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Eating a High-Protein Diet for Wound Care

Your body uses protein to build and repair skin and other body tissues. That can be helpful when you have a hard-to-heal wound, such as a pressure sore or diabetic foot ulcer. If you have one of these conditions, your healthcare provider may advise you to eat more protein.

What is a high-protein diet for wound care?

This diet involves eating healthy protein foods throughout the day. You may need a larger amount of protein than is typical. The exact amount depends on your health condition, age, sex, and level of physical activity. Talk with your provider or a registered dietitian nutritionist about what’s right for you.

How can this diet help you?

A pressure injury is damage to your skin caused by staying in the same position for a long time. It’s also called a bedsore. A diabetic foot ulcer is an open sore on your foot that may be slow to heal because of problems related to diabetes. These types of wounds can become serious. They need medical care. An overall healthy diet including plenty of protein helps support healing.

Does this diet have any risks?

Some high-protein foods contain a lot of saturated fat. This type of fat raises LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in your blood. And that increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. For this reason, it’s important to choose protein foods that are lower in saturated fat.

Which foods should you eat?

To eat a high-protein diet for wound care, include protein at every meal and snack. Choose varied sources of protein. That helps you get a wider range of all the nutrients that protein foods provide. Some of these nutrients, such as zinc, also help promote wound healing. Following are some healthy choices for getting the protein you need.

  • Fish and shellfish provide not only protein, but also a heart-healthy kind of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. Aim to eat fish and shellfish at least twice a week. Choices that are higher in omega-3s include salmon, anchovies, sardines, Pacific oysters, and trout.

  • Poultry such as chicken, turkey, and Cornish hen is another good option. Remove the skin to reduce the saturated fat.

  • Meats such as beef, pork, veal, and lamb are often high in saturated fat, so look for the leanest options. For beef, choose Select or Choice grades, and trim off visible fat from the edges. Leaner cuts include flank, top round, sirloin, and tenderloin. Buy extra lean ground beef, if possible. For pork, leaner cuts include center loin chop or tenderloin.

  • Dairy products and eggs provide protein, too. Pick cheeses with less saturated fat, such as reduced-fat cheeses and cottage cheese. Choose low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.

  • Plant-based protein foods provide fiber and healthy fats in addition to quality protein. Examples are beans, hummus, black-eyed peas, nuts, peanut butter, and tofu.

  • Zinc-rich protein foods may have additional benefits for wound healing. Oysters have particularly high zinc levels. Other sources of zinc include beef, poultry, crab, lobster, beans, nuts, and dairy products. (Zinc is also found in whole grains and fortified breakfast cereals.)

While you are focusing on sources of protein, don’t lose sight of the other parts of your diet. It’s still important to eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A varied, healthy diet provides the vitamins, minerals, and other substances you need for better overall health and healing.

Which foods should you pass up?

Limit protein and dairy foods that are high in saturated fat. That includes fatty cuts of meat, whole milk, full-fat cheese, cream, and butter.

Also limit processed meats, such as bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats. They are often high in both saturated fat and sodium.

Don’t have fried fish or chicken. Healthier cooking methods include baking, broiling, grilling, roasting, and stir-frying.

Tips for following this diet

Keep some canned seafood on hand in your pantry. Good choices include canned albacore tuna, salmon, sardines, and crab.

Round out your meals with fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C. Your body uses vitamin C to make collagen, a substance needed to help wounds heal. Sources of the vitamin include grapefruit, kiwifruit, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, green and red peppers, and tomatoes.

Suggestions for planning meals

  • For breakfast, have scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and a grapefruit half or orange.

  • For lunch, have a bowl of split-pea soup or three-bean chili (made with kidney, pinto, and black beans). Or have thin strips of lean broiled beef atop a mixed green salad.

  • For a snack, spread peanut butter on apple slices, celery sticks, or whole grain crackers.

  • For dinner, have grilled chicken or fish with a medley of broccoli, carrots, red peppers, and whole grain pasta.

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