If you maintain a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s important to understand the limits and benefits related to wound healing.

While most Americans eat meat with some frequency, a significant percentage of people in the U.S. maintain a vegetarian diet. Per a survey from Harris Interactive Service Bureau, over 7.2 million Americans describe themselves as keeping a vegetarian diet. Plus, another 11.9 million people surveyed indicated at least some interest in this specific diet. And who can blame them? According to Harvard Health, there are several key benefits to vegetarianism, including a lower risk for heart disease and more calcium for better bone health.

But even with these benefits, not everyone considers the health effects of a vegetarian diet, especially when it comes to proper wound healing.

Knowing the basics

In a report published in the journal Advances in Skin & Wound Care, clinician Nancy Collins addressed the issues of proper wound care among individuals with a vegetarian diet. Some experts believe that vegetarianism can outright cause slower healing wounds, but the truth is a bit more complicated. Collins explained that any time you begin a diet, you run the chance of removing vital nutrients, and that includes vegetarianism. According to the Hillcrest Medical Center, vegetarians are missing out on several essential proteins needed for effective wound healing. These proteins help the body produce collagen, which protects the skin and ensures effective healing in the first place.

Protein power

Despite the need for these proteins, most vegetarians don’t want to obtain them via the typical source, namely in beef, chicken and fish. However, there are several alternative sources for protein that vegetarians (and even vegans) can rely on instead. Soy is a tasty food filled with protein, especially when it comes in the form of tofu. Buckwheat is just as protein-rich, and it’s durable enough to be used as either oatmeal or flour. If you want to try something different from rice, quinoa is another flexible option loaded with protein. Even a classic like peanut butter has plenty of protein, not to mention healthy fats. According to Greatist, other protein alternatives include quinoa, seitan, beans, hummus and hempseed.

A well-rounded diet

It’s not just lack of protein that can be problematic for vegetarians. According to a 2012 study in the journal Ostomy Wound Management, while the average vegetarian receives an ample amount of calcium, folate and magnesium, they’re still missing out on nutrients like vitamin B-12 and vitamin D. Vegetarian-friendly sources of B-12 include whey powder, cheese and Marmite spread. Meanwhile, vegetarians can get vitamin D by consuming portabella mushrooms, almond milk,  soy yogurt and orange juice. Vegetarians must also be careful with their levels of fatty acids.

Before starting any diet regimen, speak with your doctor to ensure you’re making proper health decisions.

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