Grilled skewers of seafood consist of salmon, cuttlefish, scampi, and vegetables

Treatment of alcohol addiction often focuses on the medical aspects of recovery – minimizing symptoms of withdrawal and providing tools to cope with cravings and temptation after the patient returns to “the real world.” However, a holistic approach to treatment is essential to long-term recovery. Someone struggling with alcohol addiction may become extremely malnourished throughout the course of the addiction – and effective treatment includes a nutrient-rich diet. Discover the function of food as medicine during alcohol rehab – and how nutrients from food help healing.

Why Is Nutrition Important?

Proper nutrition is an essential part of the alcoholism recovery process. When a person develops a substance abuse problem, often the substance becomes the first choice and food becomes secondary. As addiction progresses, a person who abuses alcohol may neglect food intake, which can lead to many other health complications.

Chronic alcohol consumption can affect a person’s nutritional status in several ways. First, it displaces healthier foods from a person’s diet. Alcohol has a dense caloric value of seven calories per gram, but it contains nothing of nutritional value such as protein, minerals, vitamins, or fat. While excessive alcohol consumption can satisfy a person’s caloric requirements, it can also lead to serious malnutrition. In other words, a person with an alcohol abuse problem may appear to be normal weight (or even overweight) but struggle with several micronutrient deficiencies. This has not only to do with lack of appropriate nutritional intake but the effect of alcohol on the body itself.

For example, when the liver metabolizes alcohol, it uses several B vitamins, which means these vitamins will not be available for other essential bodily functions. Alcohol can also interfere with the absorption and storage of vitamin B12 and vitamin A. Finally, since alcohol is a diuretic, it leads to the loss of water-soluble minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and potassium. Effective alcohol addiction treatment should focus on addressing any nutritional deficiencies and replacing calories from alcohol with healthy, nutrient-dense alternatives that foster healing.

Nutrient Deficiencies from Alcoholism

Without sustained healthy levels of micronutrients, those struggling with alcohol addiction may contend with several additional complications, which include:

· Anemia (from B12 or iron deficiency)
· Fatigue
· Memory loss
· Learning issues
· Skin inflammation
· Depressed immune system
· Slow wound healing
· Neurological damage

With proper nutrition, a patient can bolster the healing process and combat some of the negative symptoms associated with malnutrition. Without addressing some of these root causes, recovery may be more difficult, as the patient must contend with some of the side effects listed above.

Your Body During Detox

As mentioned previously, alcohol is a calorie-dense substance. Some forms of alcohol may also have lots of added sugar and carbohydrates. What’s more, when people view food as a secondary priority, they’re more likely to grab whatever’s convenient when hunger strikes – which often means packaged food loaded with added sugars and preservatives.

When your body metabolizes alcohol, it converts it directly to sugar, which causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, and insulin response to bring the level back down. Given all these factors, it should come as no surprise that many recovering alcoholics report intense sugar cravings during detox and recovery.

Acute cravings for sugary and starchy foods should subside as withdrawal symptoms fade (around the 30-day mark), but even long-term recovering alcoholics report more cravings for sweets than before. It’s possible that sweet and sugary foods serve as a psychological replacement for alcohol but caving in to these cravings can lead to more long-term problems such as obesity, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue, and continued malnutrition. Proper nutrition is an essential aspect of your recovery and overall health.

How to Avoid Sugar Cravings

Blueberry and raspberry parfaits in mason jars, still life against a rustic wood background

At times, sugar cravings can seem insatiable. It’s important to understand that sugar is, in fact, a type of addiction itself. Highly processed foods with large amounts of added sugar trigger the reward center of the brain and eventually lead to a crash and another craving. Effective recovery from alcohol should focus on banishing all these addictive culprits from your diet.

An effective alcohol addiction recovery diet plan should include high-quality protein and plenty of vegetables. Sources of naturally occurring sugars, such as dairy and fruit, can also serve as an effective replacement for processed, sugary foods.

Uncovering Processed Sugar in Common Foods We Eat

One of the best ways to avoid sugar is to know some of the most unexpected culprits of added sugar, including:

· Packaged bread, even whole grain varieties. Search for a no sugar added version at your local health food store (Ezekiel bread is a good example)
· Boxed cereal and granola
· Flavored yogurt – opt for plain versions and add your own fruit for flavor
· Condiments such as ketchup and flavored mustard
· Dairy alternatives, flavored milks, juices, and sports drinks

You can effectively combat sugar cravings by replacing processed foods with high-quality protein such as lean beef and chicken. Opt for pasture-raised organic versions, which are more nutrient-dense and have more naturally occurring omega 3 fatty acids, essential for brain health.

Green vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale, are high in micronutrients and fiber. They can replenish the missing micronutrients from your system, helping you to feel more energized and alert. Vegetables rich in vitamin K aid in wound healing and help facilitate healthy blood levels.

Help from America’s Rehab Campuses

The prospect of reducing your added sugar intake can be overwhelming, particularly in the early stages of recovery. This is not a process you have to undertake on your own – America’s Rehab Campuses are here to help. Our holistic and comprehensive treatment programs include nutritional counseling to help our clients experience the benefits of food as medicine at our facilities. Learn how to use food as a powerful tool that allows you to be more alert, experience fewer side effects and cravings, and facilitate your long-term recovery. Nutrients from food help the healing process – contact us to learn more about our alcohol recovery programs today.

Speak with one of our treatment consultants at 1-833-272-7342