Detoxing is a normal, healthy process for everyone. There are small amounts of toxins in the air we breathe, the cleaning products we use and the foods we eat. We get rid of these everyday toxins by sweating, exhaling and filtering them through the liver.
While the body is always working to remove these toxins, there’s a limit to how much it can detox. Someone who is drinking heavily or using drugs is taking in higher levels of toxins than the body can process. Over time, this can damage the liver and lead to nutrient deficiencies that make the withdrawal and recovery process more difficult.
Nutrition plays a critical role in the road to recovery. It can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal during detox and improve the chances of a successful recovery.
Why Diet Is Important When Detoxing From Drugs and Alcohol
Chronic heavy drinking or drug use causes nutritional deficiencies that can make the withdrawal process and long-term sobriety more difficult. Many people become depleted in vitamins and minerals because alcohol or drug use can suppress appetite, disrupt gut bacteria and impair the absorption of nutrients.
Eating the right foods can help replenish these nutrients and ease common withdrawal symptoms like nausea, anxiety and headaches. Adequate nutrition during recovery has also been shown to help reduce cravings and increase the chances of prolonged abstinence.
Effects of Alcohol Addiction on Nutrition
Chronic alcohol use affects the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. People who have been drinking heavily often become deficient in vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Depleting the stores of vitamins A and E in the liver increases the risk of liver damage. Alcohol also affects the body’s response to blood glucose, resulting in a blood sugar level that is either too high or too low.
Eating a balanced diet that corrects these nutrient deficiencies can help a person manage the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It also improves the likelihood of a successful recovery.
Effects of Opioid Addiction on Nutrition
Chronic opioid use slows down the digestion process, resulting in constipation, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating and abdominal pain. These unpleasant symptoms can make it difficult for someone using opioids to eat enough food. In addition, when improperly digested food stays in the gut for too long, it can trigger inflammation that leads to leaky gut syndrome. This causes deficiencies in vitamin C, vitamin B3, folate, potassium, selenium, zinc and magnesium.
Healing the gut is an important part of the recovery process when detoxing from opioid use. A diet rich in protein, fiber and probiotics has been shown to help restore a healthy gut, which can ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Effects of Stimulant Addiction on Nutrition
Chronic stimulant use suppresses appetite, so many people lose weight and become malnourished when using these drugs. Stimulants also disrupt sleep, which throws off hunger and fullness hormones. A person abusing stimulants may not feel hungry or thirsty, which leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Another outcome of chronic stimulant use that can affect nutritional status is poor oral health, as it can make chewing food more difficult. When detoxing from stimulants, it’s important to gradually increase food intake and drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
Foods To Avoid When Detoxing From Alcohol and Drugs
While many foods help ease the symptoms of withdrawal and improve the recovery process, certain foods hinder the healing process. Overindulging in sugar, caffeine and processed foods can cause anxiety and cravings, which increase the chance of relapse.
It’s common to crave sweet foods when detoxing because sugar mimics the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain. While small amounts of sugar from fruit are OK, excess sugar can cause cravings, lethargy, anxiety and chemical imbalances. Another risk of eating too much sugar is that it can become a replacement addiction for people in recovery. Sugary foods typically contribute empty calories and don’t help replenish lost nutrients. Fresh and dried fruits that contain nutrients and fiber are the healthiest way to satisfy a sweet tooth during the recovery process.
Coffee has been shown to protect against liver disease, particularly in people with alcohol use disorder. However, coffee also contains caffeine, which is a stimulant drug. Excess caffeine can overstimulate the central nervous system, causing anxiety, headaches and irritability. Too much caffeine is also dehydrating and can disrupt digestion and sleep, which can be detrimental to a successful detox and recovery.
While there are benefits to drinking coffee, it’s best to limit it to no more than two cups a day. This helps you avoid the harmful effects that excess caffeine can have on the detox and recovery process. Decaf coffee or herbal tea are also healthy options that can help limit caffeine intake during recovery.
Highly processed foods like packaged snacks, sugary cereals, hot dogs, frozen meals and baked goods provide very little nutrition. They are often filled with inflammatory saturated fats, sugar and chemicals that the liver must filter out. Eating clean, nutrient-dense foods helps replenish nutrient stores, prevent extra work for the liver and calm inflammation to promote faster healing.
What to Eat While Detoxing
Drinking plenty of water and eating nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains and leafy greens, can be incredibly beneficial during the detox process. These foods can help you heal any vitamin or nutrient deficiencies you may have developed due to past drug or alcohol use.
Staying hydrated is key to a successful detox. Withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and sweating can cause dehydration, and they are also made worse by dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can help alleviate these symptoms and allow the body to flush out toxins.
Ways to get more water throughout the day include:
- Infuse water with citrus, berries or herbs to make it more fun
- Set a reminder to help you stay on track
- Drink a glass of water right when you wake up in the morning
- Snack on hydrating foods like watermelon, cucumber, celery and citrus
- Incorporate more soups, broths and smoothies into meals
Green, Leafy Vegetables
Green, leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are some of the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet. The fiber in greens helps keep blood sugar levels steady, which can reduce symptoms of irritability, anxiety and cravings. Greens are high in the specific nutrients that people recovering from chronic alcohol or drug use need, such as vitamins A, B, C, calcium and potassium.
Green, leafy sea vegetables like algae are a rich source of minerals and bioactive compounds that lower inflammation. Sea greens are also high in prebiotic fiber that feeds healthy gut bacteria and supports the detoxification process.
Leafy greens to eat during a detox include:
- Salad greens
- Brussels sprouts
Whole grains are high in fiber and B vitamins that help improve general symptoms of withdrawal. The complex carbs found in whole grains help stabilize blood sugar and provide sustained energy. Keeping blood sugar balanced reduces irritability, anxiety and cravings. Carbs and B vitamins are also involved in the production of serotonin, which can improve mood and decrease cravings.
Whole grain foods to eat during a detox include:
- Brown or black rice
- Whole wheat bread or pasta
Fruits have a high water content and can help with hydration during a detox. They’re a good source of vitamin A, C and fiber. Fruit can help satisfy a sweet craving while also providing essential nutrients and hydration.
If a person is experiencing nausea or vomiting symptoms, fresh or frozen fruit can be blended into a smoothie that may be easier to tolerate. Fruits to eat during detox due to their high water and vitamin content include:
Unsaturated fats help the body absorb vitamins, reduce inflammation and balance hormones. The omega-3 fats found in fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds can help stabilize mood and improve brain function. Fish like salmon and tuna have a special type of omega-3 fat called DHA, which plays a major role in brain function. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, so if a person is struggling with nausea during a detox, a small handful of nuts provides a good dose of nutrients.
Good sources of fat to eat during a detox include:
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Olive oil and olives
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashews
- Seeds like sunflower, flax, chia and hemp
Protein is needed to repair tissues and rebuild muscle that may have been lost during prolonged alcohol or drug use. Protein also stabilizes blood sugar, which can minimize cravings. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which affect mood and anxiety. Plant-based proteins like edamame and lentils have the added benefit of fiber, B vitamins and minerals.
The best proteins to support a detox include:
- Soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh)
- Beans and lentils
- Greek yogurt
If solid food is not appealing due to nausea, bone broth is a good source of protein and electrolytes and might be easier to tolerate.
Supervised Drug and Alcohol Detox in Palmer Lake, CO
Although eating well can help you have a more successful detox, there are still substances that can be dangerous to detox from on your own.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a full-service facility in Palmer Lake, Colorado, that specializes in treating drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders. Starting with medical detox, our facility provides a full continuum of care that includes inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient and outpatient programs. With successful medical detox and comprehensive care, a rehabilitation program can lead you or a loved one toward a life of lasting sobriety.
Contact us today to learn more about our medical detox programs and to determine if detoxing in a medical facility is the best route for you. Our helpful representatives are ready to answer your questions and walk you through the process.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.