The Role of Nutrition in Addiction Recovery

Smiling woman eating a salad

Nutrition plays an integral role when recovering from a substance use disorder. Drugs and alcohol can affect your metabolism and organ function, preventing your body from absorbing, digesting and using the nutrients. This is why it’s common for people with substance use disorders to be deficient in vitamins and nutrients. As you heal from substance use, eating the right foods is critical. A healthy diet ensures that you get the nutrients you need to physically repair your body and boost your immune function. 

Let’s look closer at why nutrition is important to your recovery, the foods you should and should not be eating and overall tips for getting back on track with a wholesome diet. 

Why Nutrition Matters to Your Recovery 

Using drugs or alcohol can severely disrupt your nutritional balance, leading to deficiencies and health problems. Specifically, alcohol, opioids and stimulants can impair nutritional absorption, reduce appetite and lead to a neglect in dietary needs. By eating well, you can replenish nutrients, repair damage caused by substance use and restore overall health. 

Furthermore, proper nutrition helps to support the body’s natural detoxification processes. Nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are essential for liver function, which is pivotal in detoxing the body from harmful substances. Foods rich in antioxidants can also help protect and repair tissues damaged by oxidative stress during substance use. 

Foods to Eat During Recovery 

Since your goal is to restore your health, it’s best to stick to “whole” foods. These are foods that are found on the outside aisles of the grocery store and have ingredients that the body can recognize. Some of your best options include: 

  • Fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Some of your best options include berries, kale and bananas. 
  • Whole grains. Complex carbs supply the body with energy and also aid in digestion. When eating carbs, choose whole grain options such as whole grain rice, pasta and oats.
  • Poultry and fish. Poultry and fish contain plenty of protein and healthy fats, keeping you full for longer. They also have an amino acid called tyrosine that creates neurotransmitters like dopamine. 
  • Healthy fats. You can find healthy fats in products like olive oil, avocado oil and flaxseed oil. Not only can these healthy fats improve cholesterol levels and control blood sugar, but also they can reduce inflammation in the body. 
  • Dairy products. Low-fat dairy products are also a great way to get protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. Cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and skim milk are all good options. 

Fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables

Foods to Avoid in Recovery 

While there are many good foods you can eat in recovery, there are some foods you’ll want to avoid. These foods can actually make recovery harder by increasing drug and alcohol cravings and depleting your energy. They include things like:

  • Refined sugar. Sugar is addictive, so it’s important to monitor how much sugar you eat. There are many different forms of sugar, so read the ingredient labels on the products you consume. Eating too much sugar can deprive your body of essential nutrients, create inflammation and cause cravings. 
  • White flour. Food products with white flour—cakes, cookies, crackers—should also be avoided. The body treats white flour the same as sugar.
  • Caffeine. While a small cup of coffee may be okay from time to time, it’s best to avoid caffeine in early recovery. Too much caffeine can weaken your immune system, reduce calcium levels and make it more difficult to sleep at night. 
  • Processed foods. Foods that contain additives and preservatives are convenient, but it’s best to cook your food fresh. Cereals, chips, cookies, fast food and soft drinks can disrupt digestion, place stress on your liver and cause mood swings. 

Additional Tips for Healthy Eating 

The better you eat, the better you will feel. It can be difficult at first, so be patient. You're going through a lot of changes, and it’s normal to want to reach for the good stuff! But try to remember that indulging in the wrong foods will only feel good in the moment. Eating healthy foods that are meant for your body will make you happier and healthier in the long run. Start with manageable goals if you’re not ready to transform your entire diet, such as by swapping out whole grain crackers for chips or flavored seltzer water instead of soda. 

Here are a few additional tips to help you succeed with your new recovery diet: 

  • Eat a wide range of foods. This way, you can ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and nutrients needed to repair your body.
  • Focus on fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruit makes a great snack, and both fruits and veggies can go in a blender to make a delicious smoothie. 
  • Stay hydrated. When you’re thirsty, your body may think it’s hungry, or worse yet, that it’s experiencing a craving. Drink water throughout the day to maintain body temperature, deliver nutrients to cells, remove waste from the body and protect the joints and organs. 
  • Get active. A healthy diet is made even healthier when you stay active throughout the day. Aim for 30 minutes a day. Any movement is fine, and you can break it down into smaller goals, such as two 15-minute walks. . 
  • Don’t skip breakfast. A healthy breakfast that is high in fiber and low in fat is a great way to start your day. 

Wholesome Meal Ideas 

So what does a healthy day of eating look like? 

For breakfast, you can make whole grain toast, avocado toast, scrambled eggs or oatmeal with fruit on top. 

A fresh salad is a great option for lunch, topped with your favorite veggies, a grilled chicken breast or hard boiled eggs. Tuna is also a healthy choice if you prefer a sandwich or crackers. 

Dinnertime can include a lean piece of protein, such as fish or chicken, vegetables and a whole grain starch, such as rice or potatoes. 

Snacks and desserts are fine, too! Just be sure to make smart choices. Frozen yogurt with berries, celery stickers with peanut butter or raw nuts and orange slices are all great options that will keep you feeling full and refreshed! 

Are you ready to start your recovery? Contact Recovery Cove in Easton, PA at 484-549-COVE. We offer evidence-based and holistic therapies and believe in healing the entire person—mind, body and spirit!