AKUA MIND & BODY

Helping You Achieve Lasting Recovery

Fuel Your Body

Are You Fueling Your Body for Healing?

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The Role of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery 

We are what we eat, meaning how we nourish our bodies makes a difference in our overall mental and physical health. Individuals struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder generally have poor nutrition, which can lead to medical complications and hurdles in their recovery. For example, malnutrition may impede recovery by promoting urges and cravings, leading to drug-seeking behaviors. Unfortunately, in the past, the importance of nutrition in addiction recovery treatment has been underutilized. Still, within the past few years, more addiction recovery services are incorporating registered dietitians into the addiction recovery treatment team. The primary goal of nutrition therapy in addiction treatment is to first target the serious medical and nutritional concerns and then target the psychological and behavioral aspects of eating (often, underlying eating disorders co-occurring in individuals with alcohol use disorder).  

What does addiction do to my body? 

Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, pure alcohol, sugars, and no nutrients or vitamins and therefore are considered “empty calories.” Our bodies must work to break down these empty calories, which often leads our cells and organs to become energy depleted. Over time, our livers become tired from working overtime to metabolize alcohol, resulting in poor liver function, a buildup of toxins in the body, and liver disease. Many individuals with alcohol use disorder do not eat a balanced diet but “drink their dinner.” Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with the individual’s ability to absorb and use the nutrients they consume. As a result, many individuals with alcohol use disorder have primary and secondary nutrition. 

Primary malnutrition occurs when alcohol replaces other nutrients in the diet, resulting in reduced nutrient intake. Secondary malnutrition occurs when the individual consumes adequate nutrients, but alcohol interferes with absorption from the intestine, so they are not available to the body. Individuals with alcohol use disorder, even if they do not suffer from alcohol-related liver disease, often have clinical deficiencies in certain vitamins, particularly vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), and C (ascorbic acid), as well as folic acid. The severity of these deficiencies correlates with the amount of alcohol consumed and the corresponding decrease in vitamin intake. Additionally, these individuals experience problems with protein metabolism. These nutrient deficiencies can lead to alcoholic myopathy, osteopenia and osteoporosis, and mood disorders, including anxiety and depression, observed in those with alcohol use disorder. These individuals have also been found to have altered body composition and hormone metabolism. 

How can nutrition help restore my body during recovery?  

The role of nutrition in addiction recovery is extremely important to restore vitamin deficiency, protein deficiency, and the reversal of fatty liver. Nutrition recovery begins with a well-balanced diet in addition to vitamin supplementation. A nutritionist and or a physician will help you understand your nutritional state and any organ damage you may have. Once your specific nutritional deficiencies have been targeted, the nutritionist can plan meals designed to replenish the missing nutrients while providing you with well-balanced amounts of all essential nutrients and any vitamin supplements you may need. Designing a meal plan that is balanced and satisfying is one way to significantly improve the experience of treatment. A balanced diet starts with plenty of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, adequate water intake, varied types of proteins, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The most important part of nutrition for your recovery is to find the foods that work for you and the ways you like to eat them. Once you and your dietician establish a healthy nutrition plan that works for you, sticking with the plan is important so you can learn and practice good habits to continue this way of eating after you finish your recovery treatment. 

How can nutrition help restore my brain during recovery? 

  • Eat only at planned times 
  • Choose foods low in fat and sodium 
  • Eat plenty of whole grains and fiber 
  • Avoid caffeine and sugar 
  • Regular intake of vitamin or mineral supplements as necessary 

Top foods for addiction recovery 

  • Poultry and fish: These foods contain tyrosine, an amino acid essential in creating dopamine and norepinephrine.  
  • Lean meats (or tofu) that are low in fat but high in protein: Low-calorie, low-fat proteins help your liver recover from damage caused by alcohol. The lack of fat creates less work for the liver in the digestive process, allowing better healing. 
  • Bananas: Bananas are a convenient snack and a source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin for healthy sleep. 
  • Yogurt: Repairing the digestive system after drug and alcohol abuse is essential for increasing your body’s absorption of nutrients. Yogurt contains probiotics that help your gut build a healthy microbiome in recovery. 
  • Blueberries: Blueberries contain antioxidants, which help boost the immune system and reduce the overrun of free radicals and other toxins created by drug and alcohol addiction, this makes them an important part of a diet for a recovering alcoholic or addict. 
  • Vegetables: Any and all vegetables provide a range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other key nutrients the body needs for fuel and function. Leafy greens like kale, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, and starchy veggies like potatoes all play their role in returning the body to health after addiction. 
  • Whole grains: Whole grains provide the body with complex carbs that keep you feeling fuller for longer, and they also contribute much-needed fiber to help the digestive system recover. You can often find whole-grain versions of foods like bread and pasta to replace their white flour counterparts.

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