Frequently, someone struggling with alcohol use also has a problem with nutrition. The average person who drinks excessively often consumes at least half of their daily calories in the form of alcohol. This is partially because of how the brain works: a part of the brain called the midbrain can suppress your desire to eat and increase your desire for alcohol. However, this means that, over time, the body does not have adequate nutrient stores to properly function. Choosing a healthy diet as you recover from alcohol addiction is one of the most important things you can do to prime your body to stay healthy and sober in recovery.
Alcohol is known for being very dehydrating. Drinking blocks the brain from creating a substance called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). One of the main effects of ADH is to prevent dehydration by stopping you from peeing too much. Therefore, when your body stops making ADH after you have been drinking, you pee more than usual and become dehydrated.
Staying hydrated in recovery is important. However, it’s also crucially important to talk to your doctor about how much water is safe for you to ingest. Currently, there are no specific recommendations on water intake after quitting drinking. A big reason for this is that medical conditions like heart disease and heart failure can impact how much water is safe for you to have.
Fresh Fruits, Vegetables & Lean Meats
Eating healthy and avoiding processed foods when you enter recovery can help to stabilize your blood sugar levels and overall health. The liver can become unhealthy from chronic drinking, and eating processed foods when you are in recovery can put an extra strain on the liver. Because drinking has put you at risk of having inadequate nutrients, it is important to build up those stores in the body. To do this, some nutrition doctors recommend a diet of 45% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats, and 25% protein.
Carbohydrates for Alcohol Recovery
Carbohydrates include fiber, starch, and sugars. It is important to pick healthy, complex carbs that break down slowly in your body. This can give you a steady source of energy and avoid blood sugar swings, and the fiber from these carbs may lessen alcohol cravings. Some of the best carb choices in recovery include:
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
Healthy Fats for Alcohol Recovery
Fats are the most energy-dense nutrients available. They are important for cell function in the body and play a crucial role in helping you absorb vitamins and other nutrients. While some fats are healthy, others can be bad for you. Healthy sources of fat when you are recovering from drinking include:
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Coconut oil
Protein for Alcohol Recovery
Protein is a nutrient that is an essential building block for muscles and tissues in the body. Many tissues and organs are harmed by chronic drinking, including the liver and pancreas. Therefore, getting enough protein while you are in recovery helps you repair the damage. Further, protein can help keep your blood sugar stable. Good sources of protein for people who struggle with drinking include:
- Lean red meat
Avoid Sugar & Caffeine
When you are drinking, alcohol causes spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to short-lived energy bursts. After you quit drinking, your blood sugar levels may be much lower because there is no alcohol to inflate them. Further, the poor nutritional stores in your body from drinking can worsen the problem. As a result, you may feel symptoms like:
- Lack of energy
It can be tempting to increase your intake of sugar and caffeine to counteract these symptoms. However, this does not fix the core problem of poor nutrient stores. Using a lot of sugar and caffeine can worsen nutrient problems by giving you empty calories.
Health consequences of excessive sugar and caffeine consumption can include:
- Hormone problems
Supplement with Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common in people who struggle with alcohol use. In part, this is due to a poor diet while drinking. However, direct damage to the stomach and liver from drinking can also harm the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. Therefore, it may be necessary to take supplements while in recovery to rebuild vitamin stores. Common deficiencies in people who struggle with alcohol use include:
- Fatty Vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E, and K are often poorly absorbed in people who drink heavily. Because alcohol can harm fat absorption and Vitamins A, D, E and K are fatty vitamins, deficiency can result.
- B Vitamins: Vitamins in the B-family are often low in people who struggle with alcohol because of poor absorption. Even if your levels are not low, your doctor may want you to take Vitamin B-complex supplements because your body often excretes what it does not need. Vitamins in the B family that are often low in people who drink include:
- Vitamin B1, or thiamine
- Vitamin B2, or niacin
- Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine
- Vitamin B12, or cobalamin
- Folate: Low levels of folate can result from alcohol-related liver problems. In addition, drinking may lead to low folate intake and absorption.
- Minerals: Although alcohol itself not directly impact mineral absorption, mineral levels are often low in people who struggle with drinking. This is mainly due to the indirect effects of alcohol like vomiting, diarrhea, and overall nutrient imbalance. Your doctor may want to do lab draws to test for some of the most common mineral deficiencies in people who drink, including calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Key Points: The Best Diet for Alcohol Recovery
Important points to remember about nutrition for recovering alcoholics include:
- Heavy drinking can cause dehydration as well as many nutrient deficiencies
- Although it may be tempting to self-treat fatigue during withdrawal with sugar and caffeine, this can harm the body’s ability to recover
- Eating lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbs can help the body’s tissues recover from the damage done by drinking
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common and can be treated with supplements
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use, experts at the Orlando Recovery Center can help. Contact us today to learn more.
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Henninger, Maura. “A Holistic Approach to Health in Early R[…]: Diet and Nutrition.” Huffington Post, June 27, 2012. Accessed August 24, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol and You: An Interactive Body.” (n.d.) Accessed August 24, 2019.
Prescrire International. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: How to Pred[…]iagnose and Treat It.” February 2007. Accessed August 24, 2019.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert.” October 1993. Accessed August 24, 2019.
Medici, Valentina; Halstead, Charles H. “Folate, Alcohol, and Liver Disease.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, November 8, 2012. Accessed August 24, 2019.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.