Nutrition Supports Recovery

By Laurel Sindewald

When you’re early in recovery from alcohol addiction, it’s important to remember to be kind to your body. Your body is in a state of malnutrition due both to poor dietary habits and to the ways in which alcohol impairs the body’s digestion, storage, use, and excretion of nutrients.Restoring yourself with proper nutrition is thus key for a successful recovery, and it is unsurprising that nutritional education has been shown to be associated with better recovery rates.

You’re probably used to getting half of your daily calories from alcohol. Alcohol turns to sugar in the body. Processed sugars make blood sugar levels spike and drop, and when blood sugar drops, the craving comes stronger than ever. To use nutrition to help stay sober, sugar is the first food to stay away from.Healthy food concept

Caffeine is unfortunately the second.  Caffeine overstimulates the nervous system and causes high anxiety and insomnia, which only exacerbates post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

The most common nutritional deficiencies in recovering alcoholics are vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), thiamine, and folic acid. Deficiencies in these cause anemia, as well as neurological problems, so, a B-complex supplement, along with vitamins A and C might be considered. Women recovering from alcoholism are at high risk for osteoporosis and calcium supplements might be of value. Consult with a health care professional about whether or not supplements might support your recovery.

Neurotransmitters need replenishing, particularly norepinephrine.  To do this, eat foods rich in amino acids, or in other words, protein.  Eggs, lean red meats, chicken, fish, turkey, and nuts are all recommended in abundance.

Believe it or not, fats are essential too.  Essential fatty acids are needed for nutrient uptake and cellular repair, as well as for combating depression.  Look to olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado, and nuts to provide these essential fatty acids.

Rather than eating a few large meals a day, maintain stability with multiple smaller meals and snacks in between. Nuts and granola can make good snacks, with plenty of protein and carbs to keep us fueled through the day.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates will help stabilize blood sugar and can improve mental focus. These are whole grains, beans, and vegetables, many of which also have protein and vitamins. Here are some helpful complex carbohydrates to look for:

  • Quinoa is a grain high in protein and good carbs, and can be found at grocery stores with pre-mixed spices for excellent flavor. It only takes about 15 minutes to cook and most boxes have various recipes to try. Consider making quinoa with fish, like salmon or tilapia, and a hearty pot of southern greens.
  • Lentils, of whatever color, are another fantastic carb. Lentil soup with carrots, garlic, and celery is heartwarming on a cold day, and helps keep one feeling stable and strong.
  • Split Peas also make a wonderful soup with a robust flavor. Home-made split pea soup only takes about thirty minutes to prepare. Add ham or cooked bacon to this winter favorite.
  • Barley and Rice are great in soups, cooked with spices as a side, or even cooked and cooled for a salad.
  • Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Eyed Peas, or any bean is your best friend for quick and sustaining meals. Whether it be a delicious chili or black bean soup, beans are full of the kind of carbs and protein you need. Stay away from baked beans, which have sugar in them, but pinto beans combine well with fish and Mexican dishes.
  • Collard, Mustard, Turnip Greens, Spinach, and Kale are full of vitamins in addition to those complex carbohydrates.
  • Other Vegetables: Carrots, Brussel Sprouts, Asparagus, Broccoli
  • Whole Wheat Pastas and Bread

Sometimes it can be hard to find time to cook, but fast food is full of processed sugars and carbs which can bring on cravings. The additives in processed foods can tax the liver further. Try some of these simple dinners:

  • Baked or fried salmon or tilapia, a side of quinoa or couscous, and steamed broccoli. (Mix and match different vegetables or grains as sides.)
  • Lentil soup with slices of buttered whole grain bread.
  • Black bean, kidney bean, and ground beef chili with a side salad of baby spinach with walnuts and cranberries.
  • Split pea soup, containing ham or bacon, potatoes, carrots, and celery.
  • Spaghetti or ravioli with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and ground turkey, beef, or sausage.
  • Baked chicken and asparagus, steamed Brussels sprouts, and a side of wild rice.
  • Bell peppers, onions, chicken, and garlic sautéed with fajita spices and served in tortillas.
  • Tacos with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa.

“We’re not asking them to live on arugula,” says Dr. Pamela Peeke, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, author of “The Hunger Fix,” and senior science adviser to Elements Behavioral Health. “We come upon creative, delicious entrees and snacks…to reclaim that reward center. We’re switching them from bad fixes to healthy fixes.”

Wishing you a delicious and nutritious recovery.

Laurel Sindewald is a writer, researcher, and editor.

A version of this post originally appeared on

The content of this post is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

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