You Are What You Eat: Nutrition and Addiction Recovery
Research shows eating healthy helps boost recovery from addiction. Simply put, eating healthy equates to flowering physical and mental health. Despite popular belief, drowning your sorrows in junk food during recovery is the exact opposite of what you should do! Junk food does not contain the nutrients responsible for helping to regulate your moods, or prompting increased energy. We often are tricked into believing this is the case- because of the initial rush, but there’s no sustenance in junk food to keep you going.
Did you know eating certain foods can actually help repair a drug addicted brain?
An essential component for successful recovery is a healthy and nutritious diet. Regular exercise and chewing on kale can help your body reestablish normalcy after incurring the detriments of addiction. Proper nutrition kickstarts your brain chemistry and your self-esteem! Nutrient packed foods help restore hair and skin, two factors deteriorating with addiction.
Addiction and The Body
Not only does addiction take a serious toll on one’s life and their relationships, it takes a toll on physical health. Addiction often causes individuals to experience malnourishment. Generally, drug addicts are so preoccupied by finding their next fix that they forget to feed themselves. While alcoholics’ indulgence in wine, beer, and spirits gives them a feeling of being full. the unhealthy diets of people with substance use disorders will negatively impact the body’s entire make up. Addiction affects the body in a multitude of ways, including but not limited to:
- Addiction often leads to malnourishment
- Addiction blocks neurotransmitters aka the body’s natural feel-good chemicals
- Addiction prevents the body from absorbing essential nutrients
- Addiction causes damage to the immune system; leading to increased risk for diseases such as cancer
- Addiction damages the nervous system
- Addiction damages the liver
- Addiction destroys your self-esteem and overall well-being
Never fear! Food plays a key role in the reconstruction of the brain, and can be easily remedied.
Foods To Help You Get Back In The Groove
There are a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods you can implement into your diet during your recovery from addiction. Nutritional studies recommend that people in recovery from addiction eat at a “cruise control” type of pace- meaning eating small portioned meals, frequently. This style of eating helps to enhance and maintain energy levels and create balanced moods.
The Power of Antioxidants for Addiction
Antioxidant rich foods can help enhance the immune system. Foods such as fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, making them a great food choice to help with rebuilding your immune system during throughout your recovery. Foods packed with powerful antioxidants include:
Grapes: The darker, the better! Purple, red, and blue grapes are laden with phytochemicals; antixiodants that help protect against various cancers and heart disease. Grapes also contain the phytochemicals anthocynanin and proanthocynanidin, which are great immune system boosters
Blueberries: Blueberries are packed with the vitamins and minerals which are essential for strengthening the immune system, as well as phytochemicals that help protect against various diseases.
Red Berries: Strawberries and raspberries are especially great for you! red berries contain ellagic acid, a phytochemical which helps buffer against cancer-causing agents in both one’s diet and the environment.
Nuts: Nuts just so happen to be one of the most balanced foods, ever! These super rich foods will provide you with healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. All nuts offer a unique portion of minerals, phytochemicals, and fats. Many nuts are also packed with resveratrol and plant sterols essential for lowering cholesterol.
Green Vegetables: Again, the darker the better! Dark green vegetables, especially kale and collard greens, are high in nutrients which help fight against various diseases. Vitamins A, C, E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium are all packed into green vegetables. Leeks, lettuce, and kale provide lutein and quercetin, both powerful antioxidants.
Orange Vegetables: Sweet potatoes are especially essential for providing important nutrients including calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, C and B6. Other orange vegetables such as carrots are also rich in nutrients and phytochemicals.
Whole Grains: Switching to whole grain foods can make a huge difference in your diet! Substituting white bread, white rice, and flour tortillas with whole wheat bread, brown rice, and corn tortillas. Whole grains contain nutrients such as zinc, selenium and phytochemicals which protect against heart disease and cancers.
Beans: Beans may not be a fan favorite, however they’re densely packed with antioxidants. Beans are packaged with powerful nutrients including various vitamins and minerals. Green soybeans, lentils, black eyed peas, black beans and kidney beans should be essential to your diet.
Fish: Fish are packaged with powerful omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can assist in preventing inflammatory diseases such as coronary heart disease. All fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, but salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and wild rainbow trout are among the highest omega-3 packed fish. Fish also contains vitamin D, an essential nutrient not often found in other foods. Beware, fish sticks and fried fish should be left in the past, fresh fish is the way to go!
Including these foods in your everyday diet during recovery can provide you with the assurance that you’re getting what you need from your diet!
Restoring Neurotransmitters With Amino Acids
Because addiction use disorders negatively impact the brain, restoring amino acids is essential for implementing into your nutritional regimen during recovery. Amino acids are potent chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, GABA, and serotonin, are all neurotransmitters which are all closely associated with addiction and addictive behaviors. By implementing an amino acid-rich diet, you can help normalize and revitalize deficiencies in neurotransmitters that are associated with cravings leading to relapse. Amino acids and vitamin supplements are vital for nourishing the brain in recovery.
Amino acids are powerful in promoting the following behavior changes and more:
- Anti-craving properties
- Improved energy
- Improved mental focus
- Reward stimulation
- Anti-depression properties
- Overall mood improvement
- Anti-insomnia inducing properties
- Improved appetite control
- Promotes calmness and relaxation
- Mild enhancement of GABA
- Promotes pain relief
Amino acids are a fuel source for the entire brain. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process, therefore you’ll need to maintain an amino rich diet for a lifetime.
Tips for Maintaining A Healthy Diet During Recovery
- Try following the guidelines of the USDA Food Guide Pyramid
- Snack smartly!
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas are great alternatives
- Ensure your diet includes daily consumption of fruits and vegetables
- Eat whole grain foods
- Eat fiber-rich foods
- Power your body up with protein-rich foods
- Eat antioxidant rich foods
- Avoid red meats; red meats are harder to digest (remember you’re trying to restore your digestive system!)
- Take vitamin supplements
- Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!
Doing The Math
Your diet during recovery is all about numbers! For a recovery friendly diet use the following percentages for your diet
- 25% Proteins
- 45% Carbohydrates
- 30% Fat
- Daily Calories consumed should not exceed 2,000 calories
Remember not to be too hard and/or strict on yourself during your diet. Put your best foot forward but don’t put too much pressure on yourself, there are other components of your recovery from addiction which require your focus.
The Importance of Nutrition In Recovery In A Nutshell
A true and complete recovery from addiction will be dedicated to restoring your mind and body. A healthy and nutritious diet is the absolute best way to replenish the body from the detriments of addiction. Keeping an ongoing diet rich with antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals is essential for a long term recovery from addiction. Your diet plays an essential role in your overall well-being and how you feel.
Don’t give up on your nutritious diet once you begin to feel better, recovery requires maintenance so work towards maintaining your recovery for a lifetime! Remember to take into account that other healthy lifestyle choices are essential in recovery and to supplement your nutritious diet. Join a support group, exercise regularly, rest, relax and have some healthy fun.
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About the Author
Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.