We generally know about the significant health consequences of alcohol and drug use – cancer, liver or respiratory failure, premature death, etc. But what about the daily nutritional deficits substance abusers experience due to their addiction?
Substances routinely rob the body of critical nutrients to maintain good physical and mental health. This translates into extremely poor quality of life and a revolving door of recovery and relapse, because it’s difficult to beat a substance disorder when your mind and body suffer from malnutrition.
What Substances Do to You
Opioids, for example, wreak havoc on your gastrointestinal system and often cause constipation and nausea. These drugs also throw your electrolytes – such as sodium, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium – out of balance.
Alcohol dependence depletes the body’s critical B vitamins and folic acid, leading to anemia and nervous system concerns. It also damages the liver and pancreas, which will likely bring on diabetes, high blood pressure, and seizures.
People who abuse substances typically don’t consume regular meals or healthy foods. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information on the eating habits associated with drug use, those with substance issues (except marijuana) typically suffer from lower appetites and significant cravings for foods high in sugar and fat.
Redesigning Your Diet in Recovery
When you begin recovery, you need to allow time for your body to re-adjust to consuming healthier foods and learning how to hold on to the essential nutrients that were stripped away by substance abuse. A specialized addiction recovery center dietitian can help you navigate this new way of eating while you go through withdrawal and detoxification.
A standard recovery diet should include foods and supplements like these:
- Complex Carbohydrates – Whole grains, lentils, black beans, sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, and kidney beans.
- Calcium-Rich Foods – Cheese, milk, yogurt, tofu, kale, chia seeds, almonds, edamame, and rhubarb.
- Proteins – Lean beef, chicken, fish, turkey, pumpkin seeds, and shellfish.
- Good Fats – Fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
- Supplements – Iron, B vitamins, selenium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.
Replenishing your body with valuable nutrients doesn’t just help your body recover. Your mental health will benefit, too. For example, selenium helps combat sadness, anxiety, and negative moods, while iron plays a critical role in serotonin and dopamine production.
Our 7 Favorite Foods
As drug and alcohol rehab counselors, we feel that your diet is crucial to your recovery. At the same time, we want you to put aside the common notion that eating healthy means you’ll never again have an enjoyable meal or dessert.
Good foods can be just as tasty as bad ones, if not more so, and they’ll leave you feeling replenished and energized afterward. So let’s get to it. Here are our favorites:
While fish purists might debate the differences between wild-caught and farmed salmon, each is rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA. These are the ‘good’ fats your body needs to fight infection and inflammation. Salmon also offers healthy doses of B vitamins, selenium, and Vitamin D – all big players in battling depression and curbing addiction cravings.
Who doesn’t love blueberries? Bursting with flavor and antioxidants, these babies pack quite the punch in taking out free radicals and other toxins left behind by substance abuse. Blueberries are also filled with Vitamin K, which helps your blood clot properly, and Vitamin C, Manganese, and dietary fiber.
3. Sweet Potatoes
This complex carb is both low in fat and high in nutritional value. It is loaded with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports brain health and improved vision. In addition, sweet potatoes contain soluble and insoluble fiber, which are essential to maintaining your digestive system.
Rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that helps create serotonin, bananas are great sleep and food intake regulators. They come with a wealth of other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, an essential mineral (electrolyte) that turns on many different cell and nerve functions.
5. Kefir or Yogurt
Kefir – also referred to as drinkable yogurt – and regular yogurt are naturally high in bacteria critical for good gut health. Since opioid and other drug dependencies damage the digestive system, probiotic-rich foods like yogurt can put all that good bacteria back into your gut to help with detoxification. Some US and European studies even suggest that certain bacteria, such as lactobacillus, can improve mood and aid in the battle against depression.
People say, “It tastes like chicken,” for a reason. Poultry is universally liked and accepted as a great-tasting, healthy protein. Incorporating chicken and turkey into your diet can help relieve some of the pressure and stress of recovery, as poultry is filled with relaxing Vitamin B5 and tryptophan. Protein-dense poultry also fills you up and enables you to avoid eating processed and sugary foods.
Don’t roll your eyes and say tofu doesn’t count as a tasty health food option. Actually, this soy-based protein can taste pretty much like anything you want, depending on how you season it. That’s because it is highly flavor-absorbing. And tofu delivers all that excellent protein with minimal saturated fats and zero cholesterol. It also represents an ideal combatant against liver disease by inducing healing from alcohol-related damage.
Taking the first step of recovery means forgoing the things you once consumed to make you ‘feel good’ – alcohol, drugs, empty-nutrition foods, etc. Putting those habits behind you, however, promises to lead you to better health and an immeasurably happier life. That’s definitely worth the journey!
Healthy nutrition is essential for any diet, especially during times of healing. Whether it’s recovery from an illness, addiction, or injury – the right food can make all the difference in the world! The following infographic will give you insight into seven foods to incorporate into your journey towards well-being and restoration as they provide valuable nutrients that are key to sustaining good physical and mental health.