Diet and Recovery from alcohol addiction
by Jubin Cherian, Staff Nurse, Respite/Detox Unit, Ushers Island
“Food is a crucial medicine in restoring the balance of health. The sooner a newly-sober person feels great, I’ve found, the sooner he or she will begin to accept a life free of crippling attachments to substances — the life they are truly are meant to live.” – Maura Henninger
Most of the people never take care of the importance of nutrition while they start with alcohol detox. It is essential to help our body to detox from alcohol. Good diet will help in multiple ways to recover from alcohol. This article explains about how diet facilitates a speedy and safe recovery from alcohol addiction through four sections they are; the objectives of nutritional management in recovery from alcohol, dietary management of alcohol related withdrawals, dietary recommendations for people recovering from alcohol addiction and some sample recipes for the cleansing liver.
Section 1: Objectives of nutritional management in the recovery from alcohol
- Management of fluid and electrolyte imbalance due to alcohol withdrawal issues
- Support the vital organs such as brain, heart, kidney and liver to function well during alcohol detox.
- To aid the digestion process and the speedy elimination of toxins from the body.
- To meet the craving for sweet during the early stages of alcohol detox.
- To overcome the loss of appetite experienced by people undergoing alcohol detox.
- To replenish energy among people undergoing withdrawal symptoms.
- Supplementation of extra Vitamin B1; which is essential for the prevention of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
- To stabilize the mood of the people undergoing recovery from alcohol addiction, and by that reducing the chance for relapse,
- To manage alcohol addiction related malnutrition among people undergoing recovery,
- To manage nausea and craving for alcohol during the early stages of alcohol detox.
Section 2: Dietary management of alcohol-related withdrawals
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol are the greatest challenge that the people would face during the initial days of alcohol detox. The withdrawal symptoms are different for everyone. The duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary from a few days to the entire week according to different persons. The most important thing during this stage is the body will respond according to the nature of food and fluids; that we put into it during this stage. The below explained are the important dietary items which would be highly helpful during the initial stage of alcohol detox.
- Fluids and Electrolytes
People experiencing alcohol withdrawal may lose fluids through vomiting sweating and diarrhoea. This often leads to dehydration. During the early stages of detox, it is important to stay hydrated to maintain proper heart and kidney function. Water is the first and foremost in importance during the early stages of alcohol detox. Intake of more amount of water will help to replenish the lost fluid in the body and to stabilize the blood pressure.
- Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in fibres, which helps to digest them quickly. The people who are undergoing alcohol detox would have a craving for sweets. The fruits contain sugar which can fulfil this craving. The appetite of people usually decreases during the early stages of alcohol detox. The fruits and veggies are too light for the stomach so that they could be consumed more frequently in small amounts in order to manage the loss of appetite. The most recommended fruits and vegetables during the early stages of alcohol detox are raspberries, pears, oranges, strawberries, bananas and figs.
- Whole grains
Carbohydrates are really important for recovery from alcohol as they offer carbohydrate for energy. Refined grains such as white bread are ideal during the early stages of alcohol detox. However, they are a less healthy option in the long run. Whole grains are rich in fibre as well, which would help in feeling fuller and do not cause any digestive issues. The best possible options among whole grain items are Oatmeal, Brown rice, whole wheat bread and Barley.
- Vitamin B supplementing food
Prolonged consumption of alcohol leads to a lack of vitamin B. It is really important to replenish Vitamin B into the body. Vitamin B1 ensures proper brain function and reduces brain fog, memory problems and fatigue. A lack of B1 vitamins can lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain disorder associated with confusion, vision changes and hallucinations. The foods which are rich in Vitamin B are Salmon, Broccoli, Asparagus, Lettuce and Papayas.
- Proteins rich, low-fat food
Food items rich in Proteins with low-fat contents are ideal during the early stages of alcohol detox because they positively affect mood and energy leading to less chance of relapse. Malnourished individuals in detox should receive moderate amounts of protein. Eating an excessive amount of high-protein foods can strain the liver, which may already be damaged by alcohol abuse. Protein-rich food includes lean red meats, chicken, fish, Egg white and Turkey.
- Cayenne Pepper
Adding Cayenne pepper into food can reduce alcohol craving and increase appetite. During the early stage of alcohol detox; the appetite is suppressed and vital nutrients are not received. Cayenne Pepper can also help in decreasing alcohol withdrawal symptoms like nausea.
Section 3: Dietary recommendations for people recovering from alcohol
Abstaining from alcohol is challenging risk for many of the people who are recovering from alcohol. The below explained are Nine nutritional tips which are helpful for the people recovering from alcohol.
- Establish a healthy eating routine
Majority of the long term alcohol users would have a poor appetite, as they are putting a lot of fluids into their body. The long term abuse of alcohol interferes with their thought to have breakfast, lunch or dinner on proper times. The people recovering from alcohol need to build up their physical defences and basic health. It is really important for the newly sober people to get into the habit of eating at regular timings.
- Avoid refined sugar
While people consume alcohol, the body converts alcohol into sugar. This leads to an increase in the level of sugar in the blood. When the chronic alcohol users stop drinking alcohol; their blood sugar level drops and this leads to the development of sugar craving. The excessive consumption of refined sugar could lead to addiction to it, as sugar creates an elevated level of dopamine which activates “feeling of pleasure”. However, keeping blood sugar levels stable is crucial for people in early recovery, because dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar level could make people feel anxious or depressed and more likely to relapse. This could be prevented by the consumption of lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains since they are rich in carbohydrates.
- Snack smart
Eating healthy snack in a healthy way can normalise the blood sugar level and help to stave of cravings. Stabilization of blood sugar level can stabilize mood. Eat light mini-meals like a handful of nutritious nuts, fresh fruits with cheese, hard boiled eggs or organic yogurt can keep you satisfied until dinner.
- Reduce the consumption of Caffeine
People who are undergoing an early stage of alcohol recovery would have a tendency to consume more caffeine. Caffeine can spike the sugar level. The consumption of more amount of caffeine could result in a “blood sugar crash” among people in early recovery. This “blood sugar crash” make the people more susceptible to reaching their drink of choice, So that, the people in early recovery should limit their caffeine intake to one cup of coffee daily.
- Consumption of easily digestible food
People those who are abusing alcohol for long term basis would have difficulties associated with digestion and elimination of food. This is mainly due to ill effects of alcohol on the stomach and intestinal walls, faulty metabolism in liver and poor routine of food intake. This is one of the difficulties faced by people going through the early stages of recovery. They would have issues like indigestion, loss of appetite, loose stools, persistent nausea and constipation. Easily digestible food, such as oatmeal and rice and offerings high in fibre; like vegetables and fruits, are good for people in early recovery, who have gastrointestinal problems.
- Intake of vitamin and mineral rich food
People who use alcohol are often malnourished because of their poor eating habits, which result in many excessive drinkers obtaining an unhealthy amount of their calories from alcoholic beverages. Long term use f alcohol can use deficiency of Vitamin B. Vitamin B helps the body produce energy from food. People who use alcohol are often deficient for vitamin D, which regulates calcium absorption; and minerals like thiamine, which is important for healthy neurological functions. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh vegetables, including green leafy ones, avocados, nuts, fresh fish, poultry and lean meat can help people in recovery get the vitamins and minerals they need.
- Eat variety of anti-oxidant rich food choices
Anti-oxidants are essential for fostering the human immune system and help to defend against infections. Add variety of food choices like blueberries, strawberries and apples and also consume vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and peppers every day. They could be consumed either in raw forms or lightly sautéed. This type of food can also renew hair and skin that often loses its health while consuming alcohol excessively.
- Consumption of healthy fats
The healthy fats and oils provide essential absorption of the vitamins and nutrients required for the body. They are necessary for delivering essential fatty acids into the body, which can lead to depression when deficiencies are present. Sources of healthy fats include avocado, coconut oil, flaxseed, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
- Food needs to be avoided during the recovery from alcohol
- Avoid foods that provide empty calories: People detoxing from alcohol should abstain from foods with “empty calories,” which provide little or no nutritional value. Common foods with empty calories include cookies, sodas and pizza.
- Avoid sugary products: They contain few or no nutrients. High-sugar snacks include ice cream, candy bars, doughnuts and cookies.
- Reduce the intake of coffee and caffeinated beverages. Detox is a stressful process that can lead to alcohol withdrawal insomnia, depression and anxiety. Caffeine can increase heart rate, restlessness and shakiness — all symptoms of anxiety.
- Avoid Junk Food: Junk food has high levels of sugar and fat. However, these foods often lack vitamins to replenish the body with nutrients.
Section 4: Some sample Liver cleansing recipes
1. Apple – Cinnamon Detox water
Your liver loves apples! The bile ducts are opened by malic acid, which are contained in this juice. The malic acid is said to soften the liver and promote stones to release. By the aid of this apple cinnamon detox water recipe, it may assist us in cleansing the body system. Besides the cleansing benefits, calories can also be burnt by drinking the juice.
- A large pitcher
- 3 Apples
- Cinnamon sticks (powdered works too, I used about one teaspoon)
A Fuji apple is sliced and tossed into the pitcher accompanied with the cinnamon stick. Cover it with ice. Next, fill the pitcher with water and allow it to set in the fridge for 15 minutes before drinking.
2. Grapefruit Water
Grapefruit is one of the juiciest fruits, rivalling the orange. It has characteristics of cleansing the liver with the aid of vitamin C and antioxidants. On the other hand, grapefruit can slow phase one detoxification in your liver. By slowing phase one, phase two can have a longer time to catch up which help the liver to balance the workload.
- 1 red grapefruit, sliced
- 24 oz water
Put grapefruit slices into a 32oz mason jar. Then, fill with water. Lastly, close the jar with lid on and put in fridge overnight or at least 30 minutes before drinking.
3. Ginger- Cayenne- Lemon detox water
Ginger is claimed to be one of the must-have ingredients in healthy recipes. It helps in digestion and excreting excess gas in our body. Ginger can be used either in food or drinks. Plus, it also detoxifies and disinfects the body. Cayenne is also a popular addition to weight loss diets and there are tons of other benefits to adding these three ingredients to your water.
- 3 Litres of water
- 4 Lemons
- 2 Inches fresh Ginger
- 2 Tablespoons Cayenne Pepper
Simmer the water on the stove. Then, add the juice of 4 Lemons. Grate and add the peeled Ginger to the pot. After that, add the Cayenne Pepper before simmering it for about 15 minutes.
The addiction to alcohol is one of the greatest problem faced by our society. This can jeopardise the physical health, mental health and also cause disruption of social bonding among alcohol addicts. It is not too easy to completely recover from alcohol addiction. However, it is possible with a strong determination, medical support, and emotional support from friends and family. The importance of diet and nutrition in alcohol recovery is often neglected by people while they start with alcohol detox. A well-organised diet plan can help the people in a great extend in order to abstain and recover from alcohol.
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by Jubin Cherian, Staff Nurse, Respite/Detox Unit, Ushers Island