Sunday, July 20, 2008

Recovery Foods: Overcoming Alcohol And Tobacco with good nutrition

Just tossed your last package of cigarettes? Sworn off alcohol forever? What you may not know is how these addictive habits can effect your body's supply of vital vitamins and minerals.

Many of us can develop addictions to various substances in the form of a physical (body) or psychological (mental) dependency. With psychological dependence, a person relies on a substance for its relaxing or stimulating effects. With physical dependence, stopping consumption of the substance results in uncomfortable to serious withdrawal symptoms.

Fortunately, the body has an amazing ability to heal itself once an addiction has been kicked. The process of healing can be aided by a healthy, well-balanced diet.


Alcohol, a depressant, is the world's most widely used addictive drug. Addiction to alcohol, or alcoholism, is rampant in the US. About one in four adults either has a drinking problem or drinks enough to be at risk for developing one.

People who drink too much often eat poorly. Alcohol itself offers no essential nutrients, yet heavy drinkers may get up to 50 percent of their daily calories from it.

Alcohol also impairs nutrient absorption by damaging the cells lining the stomach and intestine. Even if nutrients are digested and absorbed, alcohol can prevent them from being used by changing their transport and storage.

Alcohol causes the pancreas, which secretes digestive juices, and the liver, which prepares nutrients either for immediate use or for storage and future use, to perform inefficiently.

Alcohol-induced liver damage can result in serious diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis, a painful liver inflammation that can cause death. Too much fat in the liver leads to fatty liver disease, which kills over 1,000 people annually. Damaged liver cells can result in cirrhosis or scarring of the liver, from which 14,000 people die annually.

Alcohol inhibits the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins-A, D, and E. Heavy drinkers are often deficient in these vitamins as well as C and K and the B vitamins. Alcohol also leaches minerals from the bones, resulting in calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc deficiencies.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, chronic, excessive drinking can permanently damage the brain, nervous system, heart, and pancreas. By raising blood pressure and heart rate, heavy drinkers increase their risk of stroke or heart attack.

Alcohol affects the immune system as well, increasing a drinker-s risk of cancers, especially of the mouth, throat, liver, and bladder. Researchers find a greater risk for breast cancer in women alcoholics. All together, alcohol factors into over 7,000 cases of cancer each year.


Today, 25 percent of American adults smoke. With each puff, they inhale over 4,000 chemical compounds. Cigarettes contain over 40 cancer-causing chemicals such as nicotine, nitrosamines, cadmium (a toxic metal used in batteries), and radioactive material like uranium and polonium.

The many poisons in tobacco and cigarette smoke, like tar and carbon monoxide, are extremely harmful to the lungs and air passages. Tobacco also contains nicotine, an addictive drug.

Smoking suppresses the appetite and sense of smell and taste, sometimes resulting in a poorly balanced diet. Smoking a pack a day has been shown to cut the amount of Vitamin C in the body by 50 percent. Smoking leaches calcium from the bones and smokers also need more folic acid and B vitamins than nonsmokers.

Smokers' colds last longer and painful sinus headaches hit more often. Other effects from smoking include leg aches and cold toes and fingers due to poor circulation.

Smoking also kills. Each year 419,000 Americans die from smoking. Lung cancer alone kills about 149,000 people annually and smoking claims nearly 90 percent of those cancers. Using any tobacco product can lead to cancers of the mouth, lip, tongue, esophagus, and larynx. Every year about 8,000 people die from these cancers.

Smoking causes most cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These two lung diseases account for about 40,000 deaths annually. Smoking also greatly increases the risk of major heart and artery diseases. The Centers for Disease Control reports that smoking causes 180,000 cardiovascular deaths each year.


Some people quit alcohol and tobacco on their own. They go "cold turkey" by tossing the drug and dealing with a painful withdrawal period. Others wean themselves, gradually using less and less. Other choices include using medication such as nicotine patches or gums.

For many people, twelve-step and other support group programs have proven successful. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first twelve-step group program and is now used worldwide. AA has been adapted to many other addictions including stop-smoking groups.

Other treatments include crisis intervention, and hospital, clinic, and private programs. One-to-one or group counseling works for some people, too.

Eating Healthy
One way to speed recovery from overindulgence and addiction is to focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet. The right foods can help "rebuild" the body.

"When recovering from an addiction, experiment," recommends Anne Dubner, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

"Use the food guide pyramid developed by the US Department of Agriculture as your starting point. Try not to overdo it on any one food. Go for variety and balance." Dubner says simple, basic foods are best during recovery. Stay away from fried, greasy foods and go for fresh as much as possible.

"Let fruits and vegetables scream at you. The darker the color, the better they are. Take raw spinach versus iceberg lettuce. Spinach has vitamins A and C and fiber. Iceberg lettuce offers little nutrients. White potatoes are good because they have vitamin C and fiber. But try sweet potatoes. They contain vitamin C and fiber as well, plus vitamin A."

Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E and some enzymes with specific minerals. Explains Dubner, "These substances help to get rid of toxins that build up in the body." Free radicals damage cells that may lead to cancer, artery and heart disease, cataracts, and arthritis.

For those ending an addiction, "A high complex-carbohydrate diet is best," advises Nadine Pazder, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Whole grains and beans are the ticket here.

Due to "impaired absorption of nutrients from alcohol, people recovering from alcohol are low on protein," she says. So, include legumes (including soy) most days of the week. Include nuts and seeds in your diet, but remember these are fairly high in fat.

Because a damaged liver releases folic acid, this essential B vitamin often needs replenishing. Dried beans furnish plenty of folic acid, as do dark green leafy vegetables and orange juice.

"Adequate calcium is a problem for those coming off an addiction, especially for women," says Colleen Pierre, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of the recently published Calcium in Your Life. "Get calcium from food. Calcium in foods is absorbed better and comes with other nutrients." Besides traditional calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, look for calcium-fortified foods like bread, orange juice, rice, and soy milk.

If heartburn or other tummy troubles occur during recovery, Pazder recommends "eating four to six small meals a day." This keeps the digestive system from overworking, especially if you are malnourished.


You've heard it before, but it's important to drink 8 glasses of water every day. Water is, "Mother Nature's way of cleansing the body and helps flush out toxins and impurities," says Dubner. Decrease or avoid sodas, coffee, and non-herbal teas. "These beverages do not flush out toxins and instead make the kidneys work faster."

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