It would seem like a no-brainer that the foods you eat can affect your mood. It might also seem obvious that someone with a drug or alcohol problem would be the first to understand how substances they put into their body can affect their mental and physical health — but that isn’t always the case when it comes to healthy food and nutrition. Many people enter rehab with little to no knowledge about proper nutrition and how important it is to the treatment and recovery process.
Therefore, one of the most important components to look for in any prospective drug or alcohol rehab program should be the meal plans they offer and the foods they include in their daily menu. Here are some tips about nutrition during early recovery, as well as a sample rehab meal plan.
Foods That Are Good for Your Recovery
A well-balanced and diversified diet that is rich in whole foods from the five recommended food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy — is a good daily discipline to follow for anybody, not just those in recovery. (If you have intolerances to certain foods, such as dairy products, your diet may be more restricted.)
The point of emphasis here is on whole foods, as opposed to processed foods or fast foods. A whole food is any fruit, vegetable, grain, protein or dairy product that has not been artificially processed or modified from its original form. Fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs and ancient grains like quinoa and oats are good examples of whole foods.
While any whole food is good for your recovery, certain whole foods are especially good for early recovery because their nutrients can boost brain health and mood, alleviate some of the mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal, and speed the healing process. Some examples of whole foods that are often incorporated into a rehab plan of treatment include:
— Whole foods that contain the amino acid tyrosine. Tyrosine is the precursor to the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine, which typically occurs at abnormally low levels in early recovery and is associated with low energy and motivation, apathy, a depressed mood and intense substance cravings. One way to naturally boost dopamine levels is to eat tyrosine-rich foods that will convert to dopamine during the digestion process. Examples of high-tyrosine foods include bananas, sunflower seeds, soybeans, lean beef, lamb, pork, whole grains and cheese.
— Whole foods that are rich in L-glutamine. L-glutamine is an amino acid that offers immune and antioxidant benefits, among others. L-glutamine can help reduce sugar cravings, which can be common during early recovery. Research has linked sugar consumption to higher rates of anxiety, depression and inflammation, which can potentially hamper progress in a plan of addiction treatment. Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach and parsley are great for boosting L-glutamine levels. Some other natural sources for this amino acid include beets, carrots, beans, Brussels sprouts, celery, papaya and protein-rich foods like beef, chicken, fish, dairy products and eggs.
— Whole foods that are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants help to rebuild your immune system in the aftermath of addiction-related damage and speed the body’s cleansing process during detox and withdrawal. Foods that are high in antioxidants include berries like blueberries and strawberries as well as leeks, onions, artichokes and pecans.
— Whole foods that boost your levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes calm and relaxation. During early recovery, anxiety, restlessness and insomnia are very common symptoms that can often accompany withdrawal. Kefir (a fermented yogurt-like drink), shrimp and cherry tomatoes are some of the foods that can help alleviate and offset these symptoms by boosting GABA levels.
— Whole foods that contain tryptophan, which can lift your levels of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. Tryptophan is another essential amino acid in the body that is the precursor to serotonin — a neurotransmitter that at optimal levels promotes a positive, happy mood. It is found in a number of foods, including cheese, turkey, lamb, pork, tuna fish, oat bran and beans and lentils.
A Sample Rehab Meal Plan
A wide range of whole foods that can, in various ways, support recovery from a substance use disorder means there is virtually no end to the potential daily meal plan options available to people in substance abuse treatment. Here is just one sample rehab meal plan of many:
Breakfast: A fruit smoothie that combines protein powder, unsweetened Greek yogurt or kefir, oats, a banana, blueberries and unsweetened almond milk.
Morning snack: A piece of whole grain bread layered with peanut butter — ideally, the organic variety containing no refined sugar — and honey.
Lunch: A large plate of dark leafy greens, like spinach, topped with tuna or chicken salad.
Afternoon snack: A handful of nuts and sunflower seeds.
Dinner: Salmon, quinoa (or another whole grain), Brussels sprouts and a green salad topped with pecans and goat cheese.
There are multiple ways to cultivate a recovery-friendly diet that will support your end goal of lasting freedom from substance abuse. As long as you stick to fresh, whole foods, you can boost your nutrition and feel healthier throughout your recovery.