Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after cutting out alcohol is a very common experience. While these symptoms will subside with time, introducing certain foods and avoiding others can help alleviate symptoms in the meantime. This article will explore what foods and liquids are beneficial for your system, what foods should be avoided, how vitamins play a role, and how to handle the food cravings that often accompany alcohol withdrawal. It’s important to note that in some cases, alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous or even life-threatening. That’s why it’s crucial you speak to a healthcare professional before significantly reducing your alcohol consumption.
Before we get started, you might be wondering what causes alcohol withdrawal? Let’s discuss. When an individual consumes unhealthy amounts of alcohol over an extended period of time, their body can adapt to the depressive effects of alcohol, which slows down the central nervous system. When a person then stops drinking alcohol, their central nervous system can become hyperactive and dysregulated, leading to various withdrawal symptoms. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and shakes. Other symptoms, like seizures and hallucinations, can be more severe and even life-threatening. That’s why it’s vital for your safety that you consult a medical professional before you stop drinking.
It’s also important to note that you should consult your doctor before making any sudden or drastic changes to your diet.
Best Foods to Eat When Detoxing From Alcohol
In general, healthy and nutritious foods are the best to eat when you first stop drinking alcohol. If you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms, maintaining a healthy diet can help your body rehydrate, build back its strength, and restore the nutrients that may have become depleted due to alcohol use. Let’s go over which specific types of foods are best to incorporate.
Water and Hydrating Foods
Let’s start with the most essential item on this list: water. When your body is recovering from excessive drinking, it works hard to rid itself of the toxins from alcohol. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which causes us to urinate more when it leaves our system. These factors all can lead to dehydration when you first stop drinking. Bodily functions associated with alcohol withdrawal that can lead to dehydration include sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Aside from water, it can be beneficial to add hydrating foods into the mix. Fruits like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and oranges are all incredibly hydrating. Vegetables like cucumber, lettuce, zucchini, celery, and tomatoes also have high water content.
It’s important to note that it’s best to avoid excessively sweet drinks like soda, teas, or juices sweetened with added sugars. If you want something with a bit of flavor, unsweetened green tea is a great choice. It’s also helpful to minimize caffeine intake, as caffeine is a diuretic and can exacerbate dehydration in early recovery.
Whole Grains and High-Fiber Foods
Whole grains are fiber-rich foods that slowly release sugar into a person’s system, which helps to prevent mood swings and keep you feeling fuller for longer. Whole grains are a great source of ongoing energy.
Healthy whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, barley, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta. Whole grains also help to promote healthy gut bacteria, which supports liver and kidney health, the body’s two most important detox organs.
Foods High in Vitamin B
Alcohol consumption often leads to a vitamin B deficiency because your body cannot properly absorb vitamin B when there is alcohol in your system. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can severely reduce the rate of vitamin B absorption, so it’s beneficial to boost vitamin B levels after you stop drinking.
Salmon is one of the foods with the highest concentrations of vitamin B and also one of the tastiest. Leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, or romaine lettuce are also great choices (please note that cooking any leafy green diminishes the vitamin B content). Other options include eggs, milk, beans, lentils, and whole grains.
Foods High in Zinc
Similar to vitamin B, zinc is another nutrient that can’t be adequately absorbed when a person consumes alcohol. Zinc deficiency not only increases the risk of disease but can include other symptoms like loss of appetite, mental lethargy, and rough skin.
To offset zinc deficiency, consider adding high-zinc foods to your diet. Meat of any kind is an excellent source of zinc, but it’s important to avoid excessive amounts of red or processed meats as they have been linked to increased risk for heart disease and cancer. Shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, and eggs are other excellent sources of zinc.
Because excessive alcohol use can lead to protein deficiency, it’s great to add low-fat proteins into your recovery diet. Protein is essential for the brain and heart and serves as the building blocks for all the body’s muscles. Having enough protein can help reduce withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, headache, and fatigue.
Sources of low-fat proteins include white-fleshed fish (cod, haddock, tilapia, or bass), greek yogurt, cottage cheese, beans, peas, lentils, poultry, and soy.
Iron is essential for proper hemoglobin function. Hemoglobin helps your red blood cells carry oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues, then transports carbon dioxide from those organs and tissues back to your lungs. And just like vitamin B and zinc, alcohol affects how the body absorbs iron from food, causing an imbalance when you first stop drinking.
High-iron foods include shellfish, spinach, organ meat (like liver), legumes, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, turkey, broccoli, tofu, and red meat.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Alcohol use is known to cause inflammation in the body. Omega-3 is a healthy fat that can help reduce inflammation. Also, because of the way alcohol affects our brain chemistry, it’s common to experience mood swings in early sobriety. Omega-3 also stabilizes mood, and improves brain function. Salmon, which has already appeared on our list once, is also extremely high in omega-3s.
Other fish and shellfish such as mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, and anchovies are excellent choices. And for those who are vegetarian or simply not fond of seafood, alternatives include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
Cayenne pepper is a natural spice found in a variety of cuisines. Capsaicin is the component in the pepper that causes a burning sensation upon consumption. Capsaicin has also been shown to have pain-relieving and appetite-stimulating effects, both of which can be helpful in the early stages of withdrawal when many experience a lack of appetite.
Capsaicin also releases endorphins, the hormone that creates feelings of happiness. Adding a little bit of cayenne pepper to food can help boost mood and also aid with nausea. Some of the most common recipes that include cayenne pepper are vegetable soup, spicy marinades, chili sauce, and Indian curry.
Alcohol can disrupt the gut microbiota and promote an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria. When you cut out alcohol, your gut works to regain its natural balance, which can improve digestion, absorption of nutrients, and serotonin production. Improving your gut health can also make your liver and kidneys more efficient at detoxing.
One of the best ways you can help your gut restore its healthy bacteria is to consume probiotics. Yogurt is one of the most popular sources of probiotics, but other options include fermented foods like kimchi and pickled vegetables, fermented drinks like kombucha, sourdough bread, and tempeh.
Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Food Cravings?
When you drink alcohol, it releases a burst of dopamine, serotonin, and other “feel good” chemicals in your brain. With prolonged alcohol use, your body can come to rely on alcohol to feel good, and crave the boost in feel good chemicals. When someone stops drinking, their dopamine and serotonin levels are initially depleted, so it’s common for them to seek out other sources of comfort and pleasure to compensate. For many people in the withdrawal phase, this results in cravings for specific foods.
Common Food Cravings During Alcohol Withdrawal
For those in the withdrawal phase, the most common food craving is sugar. One reason this occurs is because blood sugar levels are known to fluctuate during early recovery, causing someone to crave sugar more than usual. Sugar can also provide a dopamine release, which can feel especially satisfying for someone already craving the dopamine burst alcohol provides. Lastly, sugar can give you a short-term energy boost. This can be desirable for those managing withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and insomnia. Cravings for foods high in fat and salt are also common. As we’ll discuss below, it’s best to avoid these types of food in order to keep your body as healthy as possible as it navigates withdrawal symptoms and recovers from alcohol.
Foods to Avoid When Detoxing From Alcohol
Unfortunately, the foods that a person is most likely to crave are usually the foods that are better to avoid. As we mentioned earlier, regular alcohol consumption leads to a depletion of vital vitamins and nutrients. That is why it’s important to maintain a healthy diet in early recovery, full of fruits and vegetables. That said, everyone’s relationship with food is different, and your diet shouldn’t be a point of immense stress, especially in early sobriety. If a few more sugary snacks will prevent you from drinking, it can be okay to treat yourself a bit more than usual.
Support Group: Practicing self-compassion while changing your relationship with alcohol
Sugary Food and Drinks
Foods high in processed sugars, like candy bars, donuts, cakes, or ice cream, tend to offer little in the way of nutritional value while simultaneously triggering the same dopamine release that alcohol does. This is something to be aware of when you pick out alcohol alternatives to drink. Many drinks like soda, sweetened teas, iced coffees, and fruit juices contain lots of added sugars. In some cases, the sugar content of these beverages actually exceeds the sugary foods listed above.
If you find yourself craving sugar during the withdrawal phase, it’s best to seek out healthy, natural alternatives like fruit. Fruit provides your body with other nutrients that are usually absent in foods that are heavy in refined sugars.
Fried & Greasy Foods
Many people consume fried and greasy foods while drinking alcohol, which is why these foods tend to be craved when people stop drinking. Similar to sugar, these foods stimulate the body to release dopamine. While they may provide temporary comfort, these fried and greasy foods are high in trans fat, which can lead to high cholesterol and blood pressure, exacerbating withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, brain fog, and fatigue.
High Sodium Foods
If you’ve ever found yourself licking the salt off your fingers after you finish a bag of potato chips, you know how satisfying salt can be. But food high in sodium can lead to a variety of health problems, including weight gain, high cholesterol, and blood pressure. And that’s not to mention their tendency to make us feel depressed or sluggish after eating them. Because withdrawal can already induce depressed and sluggish feelings, it’s best to eat healthier foods that leave us feeling energized and nourished.
Should I Take Vitamins During Alcohol Detox?
Vitamins are perfectly acceptable to help get your body back on track after giving up alcohol. You can opt for a multivitamin or seek out individual supplements that contain omega-3, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. Just note that supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet. Try to use vitamins as a means to support a healthy diet, not to offset an unhealthy one. It’s also vital to consult your doctor first to make sure your vitamin regime is appropriate and safe for you.
Alcohol withdrawal is challenging, but it is temporary. The many benefits of sobriety are around the corner. In the meantime, there are many things you can do to help get through the withdrawal stage. In addition to changing your diet, you can get extra support through treatment options such as medication to curb cravings, specialized alcohol therapy, and peer support groups. Monument provides evidence-based treatment entirely online and at affordable rates. We’re here for you.
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