Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

The Convalescing Diet

Eat plenty of: blackcurrants, berries, citrus fruits and kiwi fruit – rich in vitamin C and bioflavinoids. Dates for iron and easily converted calories. Oats for protein, B vitamins, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Fish for easily digested protein and minerals. Root vegetables, broccoli, carrots for betacarotene. Dried fruits for energy. Garlic, cinnamon, sage, rosemary and thyme for their antiseptic and circulation stimulating properties.

Cut down on: refined carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, high bran foods, animal fats and red meat.

Convalescence used to be an integral part of all medical treatment. A period of time which allowed recovery from illness or operation was considered an essential part of the cure. Nutritional needs will depend on the type of illness, but the general principles are to include easily digestible, nutrient rich, appetising and easy to eat foods. The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, protective minerals like zinc, and a high intake of iron to ensure good hemoglobin, are essential.

In her famous book 'The Doctor in the Kitchen' published in the1930s, English writer Mrs. Arthur Webb says, ‘Food properly prepared and given to the invalid in the right quantities at the right time is of vital importance to build up strength and put the invalid on the road to health.’ She insists on attractive presentation, a variety of crockery, scrupulous hygiene and provides recipes for beef teas, jellies, broths, fish, vegetables and restorative cordials.

Hospital diets are notoriously poor, especially in Britain. They would strain the well-being of a healthy person let alone someone recovering from serious illness or major surgery. A lack of fresh fruit. Unappetizing salads and overcooked vegetables kept warm for hours result in severe depletion of vitamin C. This in turn makes the patient more liable to infection, slower wound healing and the development of bed sores. A study by Professor John Garrow published in the British Medical Journal in 1994 shows that the poor quality of hospital food doubles the number of days spent in hospital by elderly patients recovering from fractures of the hip.

Observations on well nourished older patients demonstrate that giving them a simple vitamin and mineral supplement daily shortens the time it takes for them to recover from infectious illnesses.

Traditionally all recipe books used to contain a section on convalescent and invalid cookery and it saddens me that this is no longer the case. So unless you’ve got some of your grandmother’s old cookery books, here are some ideas.

Breakfasts should include porridge, yoghurt with honey and pine kernels, melon, soaked dried fruits with yoghurt and cinnamon; wholemeal toast, boiled, poached or scrambled eggs.

Lunches: white fish, oily fish, broccoli, spinach, carrots, free range chicken, rosemary, thyme, garlic, sage.

Evening meals: light salads, soups made with root vegetables, barley, millet, fruit salads with almonds, low fat cheeses, avocados.

Extras: fresh fruit especially grapes, dates, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits and berries, unsweetened fresh fruit juices, vegetable juices, dried fruit, fresh nuts and seeds.


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