We wouldn’t fill our car’s gas tank with maple syrup and expect it to perform well, much less run. Similarly, if we want to enjoy peak physical and mental performance we must “fill our tanks” with healthy and nutritious foods.
Individuals in recovery know firsthand how chronic substance use can affect their health and negatively impact wellness. It is very common for individuals to enter recovery with significant nutritional deficiencies and weakened physical states.
National Nutrition Month is recognized annually in March. This March, let’s commit to promoting its message — that healthy eating can benefit all areas of life, which is especially true for individuals in recovery.
What is National Nutrition Month?
National Nutrition Month was launched in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, with the goal of spreading the word about how good nutrition improves the quality of life.
How does nutrition impact recovery?
While everyone benefits from maintaining a diet based on sound nutrition, for individuals in substance use recovery, improving their health and well being are essential. A nutritional diet can support recovery by regulating stress, reducing mental health instability and improving physical strength.
Consider the positive impact of healthy eating in recovery:
- Improves nutritional balance: Substance use takes a heavy toll on the body. This is due to many factors, including poor food choices while in active addiction, loss of appetite caused by some substances and damage to organs. Additionally, alcohol use disorder can lead to severe deficiencies in folic acid, vitamin B6 and thiamine.
- Improves brain health: Substance use not only adversely affects cognitive functions but can also disrupt the cerebral cortex, brainstem and limbic system. Studies suggest that foods high in antioxidants can repair brain cells and overall brain functioning.
- Improves mental health: Ongoing research shows the impact diet has on mental health. For example, one study shows that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce anxiety, while another study connects dietary patterns with depression.
- Improves gut health: Healthy food choices support the connection between the microbiome and our mental health. The gut’s microbiome consists of the 300-500 microorganisms that reside in our gastrointestinal tract. The goal is to achieve balance between good gut bacteria and harmful gut bacteria.
- Improves physical strength: A body that is well nourished is prepared for physical activity. Exercise provides multiple benefits in recovery, including better physical health, mental health and sleep quality. The better the body is functioning as a result of good nutrition, the more active and fit the individual is.
What does a healthy diet in recovery look like?
Seeing the important role that diet plays in recovery, let’s review some excellent food choices:
- Lean proteins: Fish, lean beef, eggs, turkey, chicken
- Low-fat dairy: Yogurt, kefir, skim milk, low-fat cottage cheese
- Grains: Oats, brown rice, bulgar, millet, whole-grain breads and pastas, quinoa,
- Nuts and legumes: Almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, lentils, kidney beans, black-eyed peas
- Fruits and vegetables: Avocado, oranges, blueberries, pineapple, kiwi, pomegranate, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard
Living your life in sobriety is enhanced when you take care of your physical well being. National Nutrition Month helps us focus on our dietary choices and then enjoy the positive changes in energy level, mood, overall fitness and appearance.