Last Updated: February 15, 2023
A struggle with alcohol use impacts many aspects of a person’s life, including diet and nutrition. Drinking too much can lead to severe nutrient depletion, creating symptoms that can make alcohol detox and recovery more difficult and permanently affect your health. Eating a healthy diet and supplementing with vitamins as needed can help correct some of the damage from drinking. A healthy alcohol detox diet can help to set the person’s body up for recovery.
How Alcohol Affects Your Nutrition
Nutrient problems are common in people who struggle with drinking. Most people who drink too much get at least half of their calories from alcohol. In many cases, the person may be so focused on drinking that they make poor food choices or do not eat enough. This cycle can be reinforced by how the brain, especially the midbrain, responds to drinking. Although it is mainly known for playing a role in motor control, the midbrain can also increase cravings for drinking and stop the desire to eat. Over time, the body will work through its nutrient stores but will not have enough new nutrients from food to work properly.
Other ways drinking can harm nutrient status include:
- Poor nutrient absorption
- Impaired digestion
- Problems with the body’s ability to use nutrients when they are available
- Less nutrient storage in the liver
- Direct damage to the stomach and liver
- A greater need for certain nutrients like folate and thiamine
- Abnormal loss of nutrients in urine and feces
A Healthy Diet for Alcohol Recovery
A diet of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats is important in alcohol recovery. This diet will give you the necessary vitamins and nutrients to build your body’s stores.
Consume Complex Carbohydrates
Carbs include fiber, grains, starches and sugars. The best carbs are called complex carbs and break down slowly as you digest them. This gives your body a steady energy source to avoid swings in blood sugar. When carbs are high in fiber, they may also help reduce alcohol cravings. Healthy carbs include:
- Whole-grain rice like brown rice and wild rice
- Grains like amaranth, millet, oats and spelt
Eat Healthy Fats
Fats are nutrients very dense in energy. They play a role in cell function throughout the body and help you absorb many other nutrients. Although some fats are unhealthy, others are good for you. In particular, omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats can have health benefits. Healthy fats can help you replete your nutrient stores. Healthy sources of fat include:
- Peanut butter
- Fatty fish like salmon or sardines
- Nuts, especially walnuts
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Oils like olive or canola oil
Include Plenty of Protein
Protein is the building block for muscles and tissues. Because many tissues are harmed by drinking, getting enough protein can help fix the damage. Protein is in many healthy foods like:
- Red meat, chicken and turkey
Drink More Water
Dehydration is a common side effect of drinking. When you drink, the alcohol suppresses your brain’s production of a chemical called antidiuretic hormone, or ADH. ADH’s main effect is preventing you from losing too much water and urinating too much. When you drink alcohol, the brain makes less of this hormone, causing you to urinate more frequently and become dehydrated.
Although staying hydrated in recovery is important, you should ask your doctor how much water is safe for you to drink. Certain health problems like heart disease can impact how much water you can safely drink.
Nourish With Vitamins and Minerals
Low levels of vitamins and minerals are common in chronic drinking. Because harm to the stomach and liver from drinking can make it harder to absorb vitamins and minerals, a person in recovery may need to take supplements. Common deficiencies from chronic drinking include:
- Vitamins A, D, E and K: Because drinking harms fat absorption, levels of these fatty vitamins are often low in people who drink.
- Vitamins in the B family: Alcohol hurts the absorption of many vitamins in the vitamin B family. Many of these vitamins are available in a single vitamin-B complex supplement, so you will not need to take separate pills for each.
- Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine.
- Vitamin B2, also known as niacin.
- Vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid.
- Vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine.
- Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin.
- Folate: Liver problems from drinking can cause low levels of folate. Folate absorption may also be harmed by drinking.
- Minerals: Due to alcohol-related vomiting, diarrhea, GI bleeding and overall nutrient problems, low mineral levels are common in chronic drinking. Common mineral deficiencies include:
A deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine) can be especially harmful, leading to irreversible brain damage if not addressed.
Avoid Caffeine and Sugar
An alcoholic drink can spike your blood sugar levels, creating a short-term burst of energy. However, once you start to detox from alcohol, your body is suddenly not getting those sugar spikes. Your blood sugar levels may, therefore, be much lower in recovery. Because many people who struggle with drinking also have poor nutritional stores, when they enter detox, they often have symptoms like:
- Low mood
- No energy
Some people try to make up for these symptoms by increasing their sugar and caffeine intake. However, experts recommend you avoid doing this. The central reason for these symptoms is poor nutrient stores, which are not fixed by empty calories from sugar and caffeine. In addition, you can become dependent on sugar and caffeine, switching from a drinking problem to a sugar and caffeine problem. Having too much sugar and caffeine in the diet can also lead to symptoms or issues like:
- Feeling tired
- Being anxious
- Having hormonal problems
- Gaining weight
Stay Away from Processed Foods
Processed foods are common in modern diets but harm the body. Excess processed foods can lead to weight gain, elevated blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When consumed after an evening of drinking, processed foods can exacerbate these negative effects.
While recovering from alcohol use, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet. Some processed foods you should avoid include:
- Sugary food
- Sweet drinks like soda, juice and sweet tea
- Processed meats
- Fast food
- White bread and pasta
- Frozen meals
- Chips and other salty snacks
- Sugary cereals
Take A Step Toward Recovery
A Balanced Diet Promotes Healthy Alcohol Recovery
For a healthy, balanced diet, experts advise 45% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats and 25% protein. Sticking close to these numbers can promote recovery and help alleviate some of the stress detox puts on your body.
At The Recovery Village Columbus, we care about helping you feel your best during recovery, ultimately succeeding in your recovery journey. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to learn how we can help you achieve lasting freedom from alcohol addiction.