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The word “detox” has recently inserted itself into popular health culture: describing juice cleanses and diets involving laxatives or other questionable weight-loss methods.
In this context, however, detox is your body’s way of getting alcohol out of your system: and is the first step towards recovery.
Some people can complete their detox in the comfort of their own home, also known as a “self-detox”. This means that they’ll stop drinking without professional help but might still use a tapering schedule where they slowly reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.
This way, you’ll be watched closely by professionals who can help manage withdrawal, which are symptoms that occur while the body gets used to living without alcohol.
These withdrawal symptoms may begin from 6 hours to a few days after someone’s last drink and will be pesky at best and life-threatening at worst. From shakiness and anxiety to nausea, vomiting, and even seizures, there is a huge range of symptoms that can come into play.
So, what can help you reduce many of these uncomfortable effects? Alongside hydration, a large part of the answer is eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.
Certainly, when you’re hungover, the overriding temptation is to stuff your body with carbs, fats, and anything greasy. Unfortunately, the same cravings appear when actively detoxing from alcohol: with many people reaching for foods high in both sugar and empty calories (pizza, cookies, chocolate, you know the rest).
However, because alcohol detox can deplete the body of nutrients as well as toxins, it’s important to prioritise eating healthily. Especially in the first 48 hours of alcohol detox, certain withdrawal symptoms can create a less-than-ideal start to your recovery.
Unfortunately, it’s common to experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea at the start of an alcohol detox, as your body is essentially freaking out and trying to stabilise. As we all know, these symptoms will make you feel rubbish straight away: affecting electrolyte balance and our body’s ability to retain water.
Either feeling or being sick while taking constant trips to the toilet can also affect nutrient intake: as the last thing you’ll want to do in this situation is wolf down a kale smoothie. Symptoms like anxiety can also arise and lead to a further loss of appetite.
However, it’s more crucial than ever in these moments to eat healthily. Well-balanced, nutrient-rich meals can help those going through alcohol detox manage low blood sugar and improve and maintain their body weight after bouts of vomiting.
Getting your five a day will make sure your body is working to the best of its ability, not only to relieve withdrawal symptoms but to remove toxins. Nutrient-rich foods improve heart and liver function: which are two key players in the recovery process.
It’s also common to enter detox with pre-existing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, with countless studies linking alcohol with malnutrition. Having a less than adequate store of nutrients in the body can worsen symptoms and prolong detox, which isn’t something that anyone wants. That kale smoothie is sounding more appealing by the minute, isn’t it?
If you choose to check yourself into rehab for a medicated alcohol detox, you’ll receive nutritional assistance as part of your programme, with professionals delivering healthy meals as part of the treatment service.
However, as suggested by the name, those opting for a self-detox will have to do everything themselves: which includes making their own nutritious meals: a process that can be tricky without the right knowledge. So without further ado, here are 6 types of food to eat when detoxing from alcohol.
“Eat your greens!” they told us in school: a place where the benefits of broccoli were seemingly always discussed. We’re going to start by echoing this advice, however, with green leafy vegetables being one of the best types of food to eat when detoxing from alcohol.
Firstly, vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and romaine lettuce are extremely high in vitamin B, which also happens to be something your body lacks after a bout of heavy drinking. Rebuilding stores of B Vitamin through eating your greens benefit the detox process in so many ways, it’s impossible to pin them all down.
Vitamin B1, which can be found in green peas, edamame, and asparagus, ensures proper brain function and reduces brain fog, memory problems and tiredness. This can be crucial for people still needing to work or carry out other responsibilities during their alcohol detox.
Vitamin B3 is great for converting food into energy and improving cell health, supporting normal nervous system function, and fighting fatigue: all of which can speed up the alcohol detox process. Green vegetables that are high in B3 include broccoli, edamame, peas, and mustard greens.
Scientists have also discovered that vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, converts food into glucose and helps the body to remove alcohol efficiently. While leafy greens don’t usually contain B5, you can get this important vitamin from brussel sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus.
However, something that green leaves can supply you with (mainly spinach and parsley) during your alcohol detox is L-glutamine: an important amino acid found in our body’s muscles.
Among its many benefits, one of them is to stop pesky cravings for both sugar and alcohol.
Meanwhile, kale and spinach are high in folate, also known as vitamin B9: which studies show is often lacking in the bodies of those with alcohol addiction.
So, downing a delicious green smoothie as part of your detox diet will help you fight anaemia, while also loading you with iron and vitamin C.
If you’re not someone who loved to chow down on green vegetables, snacking on berries is another great way to get those all-important vitamins and minerals. Who can say no to a punnet of raspberries, after all?
Aside from being delicious, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries etc are a great source of naturally-derived sugar. This makes them a guilt-free way of satiating the sugar cravings that come as the body tries to find different sources of dopamine.
Their easy snacking potential also means that you’re more likely to reach for them instead of sweets and chocolate. Especially in the first few sluggish days of alcohol detox, berries make for a quick source of nutrients and require almost no preparation.
Speaking of nutrients, berries contain several vitamins and minerals that are vital in helping your body recover from alcohol addiction. Strawberries are particularly high in Vitamin C: which has a variety of benefits.
Much loved vitamin C strengthens the immune system and protects cells from damage, all while helping the liver to break down toxins. Impressively, just one cup of strawberries provides a whopping 150% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin C.
Vitamin C is also part of the antioxidant family, of which vitamins A and E are also members. These substances support the body’s natural detox process by helping to reduce overall liver damage and even regenerate a damaged liver.
And then, there’s the fibre content. The majority of berries are around 85% water, with the rest being soluble fibre: an essential carbohydrate for making sure you stay regular if you catch our meaning.
Consistent bowel movements aren’t just a part of remaining comfortable in alcohol detox, they also provide another way for alcohol and toxins to leave the body. And this isn’t the only health benefit: getting your fibre from berries leads to better control of cholesterol and blood sugar.
While they may not be as vibrant as berries, whole grains are another staple of the ideal alcohol detox diet. High in carbohydrates, this wholesome family of foods come in a variety of forms, including non-instant oatmeal, brown rice, rye bread, quinoa, and many more.
It’s when discussing the benefits of whole grains in detox that we once again return to fibre. The carbohydrates found in whole grains are high in fibre and so help toxins leave the body via the bowels. This supports the digestive system and liver in their quest to heal the body from the damage caused by alcohol.
Unrefined oats in particular are a great source of beta-glucans, a kind of fibre that aids digestion and allows our body to better absorb nutrients. This allows your body to get the most out of the other nutrient-rich foods that you’ll hopefully be eating while detoxing from alcohol.
Whole grains are also typically high in iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and B vitamins, which is all well and good, but how can this benefit the body during detox, you may be asking?
Bulgar wheat, for example, is a grain typically used in delicious middle-eastern salads like tabbouleh and often features in soups and stuffed vegetables. It’s also low in fat and high in minerals such as magnesium and iron: another fuel for our most important detox organs.
Loading up on iron-rich foods will help reverse the effects of anaemia, which is unfortunately something that many regular drinkers have. This deficiency shouldn’t be underestimated: it causes extreme fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
The lethal combination of alcohol-induced anaemia and withdrawal symptoms can change a relatively comfortable detox into a nightmarish experience: making it important to consume whole grains and leafy greens that are chock-full of iron.
Another detox-aiding mineral offered by whole grains is magnesium. This handy substance is crucial for the brain and body: helping to regulate blood sugar, maintain a healthy heartbeat, and have mood-boosting benefits to help with psychological symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
And, you guessed it, magnesium is yet another thing that alcohol depletes as it rampages through our bodies. To replenish your supply, seek out foods such as corn (yes, this includes popcorn, just make sure it’s a healthier version), quinoa and bulgar wheat.
While we’re certainly not suggesting you drink chicken smoothies each day, it’s important to consume enough protein during your detox: with both vegetarian and carnivore options available. Regardless of whether you enjoy wine, beer, or spirits, each unit of alcohol inhibits the body’s absorption of protein: leading to fatigue, weakness, and digestive issues.
Making sure to include protein in your alcohol detox diet will boost your energy levels and make the overall healing process easier on the body and brain. Speaking of the mind, protein also helps to enhance concentration, memory, and mental clarity which alcohol use may have tampered with.
And it doesn’t end there: much like fibre-rich foods, protein increases the body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins and minerals. For example, foods such as poultry, meat, fish, and eggs are full of B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, and zinc: all of which you’re likely to already have a shortage of.
This means you’ll be getting the most bang for your nutritional buck after eating fresh vegetables, for example: allowing your body to heal quickly after excessive drinking.
While we’re all familiar with the classic sources of protein like chicken breast, turkey, and seafood, there are so many other options out there: many of which are plant-based. There are around 6 grams of protein in 50 pistachio nuts, black beans are packed full of the stuff, as are lentils, pumpkin seeds, and peanut butter.
While many alcohol withdrawal symptoms are preventable, the harsh reality is that you won’t be able to avoid all of them while detoxing. Particularly prevalent are frequent trips to the toilet, either to be sick or expel something else.
As we’ve already mentioned, these less-than-ideal symptoms can lead to dehydration and a general loss of appetite, making it difficult to keep down heavier meals. In this initial stage of detox, it’s important to reach for soups and other liquids to stave off dehydration and replenish any lost nutrients.
Soups that contain plenty of vegetables and low-fat protein will provide your body with the nutrients it needs, while also being gentle on the stomach. Bone broth, for example, is a delicious option for those who can’t keep down food but who need to up their protein levels.
Drinking liquids such as fruit and vegetable juice, or even decaffeinated teas won’t put your intestines under the same strain as heavier foods, and can actually be quite delicious.
Another way to master the alcohol detox diet is to make sure you’re getting enough fatty acids: sourced from healthy foods, of course. Fats aren’t exactly well known for their beneficial properties, with many people thinking they’re entirely unhealthy.
However, like the other foods mentioned in this article, healthy fats benefit the brain and body in various ways.
Firstly, consuming essential fatty acids such as those found in almonds is known to have beneficial effects on the brain and even improve sleep. As insomnia is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal, it’s important to help out the body and brain as much as you can to help prevent the risk of sleepless nights.
Often taken as supplements in the form of those translucent yellow tablets, omega-3 is a more well-known type of healthy fat, and for good reason. This fatty acid can reduce blood pressure, give the immune system a boost, reduce inflammation, and much more.
Another thing that omega-3 supports is a proper brain function and has even been shown to lift people’s moods. It does this by supporting neurotransmitter function and making sure everything is ticking over properly, which can help reduce anxiety in people struggling with psychological withdrawal.
While we might associate omega-3 with fish such as salmon, mackerel, and cod liver oil, there are just as many vegan and vegetarian-friendly options. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds are all great plant-based options are can be easily incorporated into oatmeal, cereal, salad, or smoothies.
The above 6 types of food to eat when detoxing from alcohol are beneficial for so many reasons, but it’s also important not to make any extreme changes to your diet. For example, swapping sugar and junk food for a vegetable-only diet can cause unnecessary stress to the body: wreaking havoc on the digestive system.
We don’t need to tell you why adding food cravings into the mix alongside potential alcohol cravings isn’t such a good idea.
Another problematic example is caffeine. While giving up caffeine is also a great way to avoid exacerbating anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia, giving up coffee cold turkey has withdrawal symptoms of its own.
Going from 5 coffees per day to 0 often leads people to get the shakes or experience dizziness: effects that can easily double when alcohol enters the equation.
So, “how can I get the balance right?” you may be asking. The answer is to start with slow, moderate changes to your pre-detox eating habits. Firstly, encourage your body to adapt by cutting down on the “worst” detox foods (pizza, sugar, caffeine, processed meats etc).
Then, you can start introducing more healthy foods and making swaps in your everyday meals. You could, for example, replace a burger with leaner sources of protein, or choose to have it without the sugar-dense, empty calorific bun.
Fizzy drinks such as coke or lemonade could become vegetable juice or raw fruit smoothies: which can actually taste better, would you believe?
Another easy swap is to trade white rice and white bread for their healthier, whole-grain alternatives. Switching to brown rice, for example, means you’ll still get to enjoy the other components of the meal while making sure you receive more nutrients.
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