Substance Use

Nourishing Recovery: National Nutrition Month

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“You are what you eat,” originally quoted in 1825 by French judge, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, remains an important concept in health and wellness today. The Standard American Diet (SAD) has negatively evolved due to industrialization in food processing and exhaustingly busy schedules.

Modern approaches to addiction recovery and substance abuse treatment include evidence-based treatments as well as holistic methods, like nutrition and exercise.

March is National Nutrition Month, and we are taking a deeper look into the importance of the foods we eat while recovering from addiction.

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The relationship between addiction and nutrition is intricate. Nutrition plays an important role in both the onset and management of substance abuse.

Key aspects include:

  • Brain chemistry
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Mental health
  • Lifestyle factors
  1. Brain Chemistry

What we eat affects neurotransmitter (dopamine and serotonin) production and function, essential for the brain’s reward system. Substance abuse disrupts the balance of these neurotransmitters, contributing to addictive behaviors.

By restoring the imbalance through proper nutrition, some addiction-related side effects can be alleviated.

  1. Nutrient deficiencies

Making poor dietary choices, impaired absorption, or heightened metabolic demands can all contribute to nutrient deficiencies. Alcohol abuse can deplete B vitamins, while cocaine may suppress appetite, leading to inadequate nutrient intake.

Addressing these deficiencies through proper nutrition is vital for overall health and addiction recovery.

  1. Drug cravings & withdrawal symptoms

Nutrient deficiencies can heighten both drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Excessive sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption can trigger cravings like those experienced during drug withdrawal.

A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can aid in managing these side effects.

  1. Mental health

For those who struggle with anxiety and depression, nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are necessary for mood regulation and stress reduction. Addressing underlying mental health issues through nutrition complements a holistic approach to addiction treatment.

  1. Lifestyle factors

Healthy eating habits often affect other positive behaviors like regular exercise and sleep, which are conducive to addiction recovery. Conversely, poor nutrition can perpetuate a cycle of unhealthy behaviors, increasing the adverse effects of substance abuse.

Essentially, good food choices lead to more healthy choices.

What is the Science Behind Nutrition and Recovery?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in addiction recovery by:

  • Addressing nutrient deficiencies
  • Supporting brain function
  • Stabilizing mood
  • Reducing cravings
  • Promoting gut health

Incorporating a balanced diet and addressing individual nutritional needs as part of a comprehensive treatment plan can enhance the effectiveness of addiction recovery efforts.

There are various physiological effects of substance abuse, impacting:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Liver function
  • Respiratory integrity
  • Immune resilience

Abstaining from alcohol and other drugs like opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines can heal and improve these physical side effects over time.

How Does Gut Health Affect the Brain?

Emerging research suggests a strong connection between gut health and the brain. The gut microbiota, composed of trillions of bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract, affects various physiological processes, including mood regulation and neurotransmitter production.

Substance abuse can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, leading to inflammation and other health issues. Consuming a diet rich in fiber, fermented foods, and probiotics can support gut health and may indirectly influence addiction recovery.

What are Some Nutrition Strategies to Support Addiction Recovery?

Several nutrition strategies can help recovering individuals eat healthier and improve overall health.

  1. Meal Planning: Plan your meals to ensure balanced nutrition and avoid unhealthy impulse choices. Create a weekly meal plan, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and unprocessed foods.
  2. Portion Control: Pay attention to portion sizes to prevent overeating. Use smaller plates, measure serving sizes, and avoid eating directly from packages.
  3. Incorporate Variety: Include a diverse range of nutrient-dense foods into your diet. Aim to eat foods of different colors to ensure a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
  4. Hydration: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Opt for water instead of sugary drinks like soda or juice, and carry a reusable water bottle.
  5. Limit Processed Foods and Added Sugars: Eat less processed foods, which often contain high amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars. Choose whole foods whenever possible. Read labels to identify added sugars and other unhealthy ingredients.
  6. Cook at Home: Prepare meals at home using fresh, wholesome ingredients to have more control over what you eat. Avoid hidden unhealthy ingredients commonly found in restaurants and fast-food meals.
  7. Healthy Snacking: Choose nutrient-rich snacks like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, yogurt, or whole-grain crackers to satisfy hunger between meals. Stick to buying healthy snacks when you’re grocery shopping.
  8. Balance and Moderation: Allow yourself to enjoy occasional treats while prioritizing nutrient-dense foods most of the time. This isn’t about deprivation.

There are various diet options, each with its own set of principles and health benefits. 

  1. Mediterranean Diet

Principles: The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole, minimally processed foods, with an emphasis on:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Fish

Benefits: Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to various health benefits, including reduced risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers

This diet can improve your cognitive function and assist in weight management and longevity. The abundance of plant-based foods and healthy fats, such as olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish, may contribute to these benefits.

2. DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

Principles: The DASH diet focuses on eating:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Low-fat dairy

This diet focuses on limiting sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars.

Benefits: The DASH diet helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension. Studies have shown that following the DASH diet can also:

3. Plant-Based Diet

Principles: Plant-based diets minimize or exclude animal products. They prioritize foods derived from plants, including:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Benefits: Plant-based diets can cause:

  • A lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers
  • Weight loss
  • Improved longevity

They tend to be higher in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, while lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.

4. Paleo Diet

Principles: The Paleo diet focuses on consuming foods that were available to our ancestors during the Paleolithic era, including:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

The paleo diet excludes:

  • Processed foods
  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Legumes

Benefits: Advocates of the Paleo diet claim benefits such as improved blood sugar control, weight loss, and reduced inflammation.

However, research on the long-term health effects of the Paleo diet is limited, and some raise concerns about nutrient deficiencies and sustainability.

Learn More About Addiction Recovery and Nutrition with Zinnia Health

Zinnia Health operates treatment centers nationwide, so you are sure to find a location that works for you. We stress the importance of a holistic approach to addiction recovery.

Addressing nutritional needs can help recovering addicts achieve better physical and mental health, alongside:

Many of our substance abuse treatment facilities have nutritionists on staff to help you determine the best ways to get started.

Recovery is a lifelong journey, but one we take a day at a time. Making small progress with healthy eating habits is progress nonetheless.

Recognizing and redefining nutrition is important every day. Being dedicated during National Nutrition Month is a great way to recommit to your overall health and addiction recovery.

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Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us