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Alcoholism and Diet Changes

Alcoholism and Diet

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The diet consumed by alcoholics can play a substantial role in their bodies’ preservation and recovery.  The physical impact of this illness – let alone the mental health impact – is substantial and dangerous, only worsening over time.  While changing eating habits will never entirely counteract the impact of heavy drinking or binge drinking, it can be helpful.

The Physical Effects of Alcoholism

Alcoholism is an addictive illness which affects about 5 percent of heavy drinkers, as well as their families and friends. Research into the drinking habits of alcoholics is suggestive of a genetic cause for the condition, although no alcoholic gene has yet been identified.

The physical effects of this type of compulsive drinking include severe nutritional deficiencies which are typically aggravated by the alcoholic's increasing disregard of his/her dietary needs. Excessive alcohol intake in a person's diet leads to an increased risk of cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. About 20 percent of all heavy drinkers contract cirrhosis of the liver, of whom about 20 percent die of liver cancer. In addition, alcoholism significantly increases the risk of cancer of the throat, esophagus and stomach, and may contribute to cancer of the breast and colon.

Diet for Alcoholics and Heavy Drinkers

A healthy diet is not capable of curing alcoholism, nor can it undo serious damage to the liver which typically is irreversible. However, by increasing nutritional intake, a healthy diet plan may help to retard the development of cirrhosis and strengthen the body's defences against further serious disease. Giving up alcohol by joining Alcoholics Anonymous or another detox or alcohol rehabilitation program can be vital to maximize the effectiveness of any diet for heavy drinking.

When taking the damage from heavy drinking into consideration – particularly when it has been an issue for several years – the diet of an alcoholic can be even more important than it would otherwise be. A body experiencing harm is in greater need of the right nutrients and wellness balance to overcome some of that harm and protect from future damage.

Focus a diet for alcoholics patients on overall nutrition as well as on nutrients that will provide added support for areas typically affected by heavy drinking.

Common Nutritional Deficiencies in Alcoholics Diet

Before making dietary suggestions to combat the effects of heavy drinking, let's look at the nutritional effects they cause. Excessive alcohol consumption overloads the liver adversely affecting its ability to store fat soluble vitamins (eg. vitamin A, D, E) and metabolize protein. In addition, alcoholics often have low levels of the following essential nutrients: calcium, folate, magnesium, thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3) and zinc. The best diet for alcoholics should address these dietary deficiencies thus helping to repair the damage done as well as strengthening the body for the future. 

Diet Tips for Alcoholics

If you are (or have been) a heavy drinker, and you want to eat a healthy diet, follow these suggestions carefully. These diet suggestions represent the minimum possible changes that you need to make to your daily diet. For personal advice, consult a dietitian with experience in treating alcoholics. 

Increase Your Intake of Antioxidants

This means including regular amounts of brightly colored fruit and vegetables in your daily diet (eg. apricots, peaches, carrots, peppers), green leafy vegetables (eg. spinach), vitamin C rich foods (eg. oranges, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, tomatoes), and vitamin E foods (eg. 1 tsp wheatgerm oil daily). Five servings (treat one medium fruit, fresh, chopped or cooked, or equivalent, as one serving) of these antioxidant rich fruits and veggies is a minimum requirement.

Increase Your Intake of Protein

Eat a minimum of 4-5 ounces of quality protein per day. Choose fish (grilled/baked), skinless chicken or turkey, or very lean beef (max 5 percent fat). Soybeans, egg whites and lentils are good vegetarian choices. On one day of the week, choose lamb's or calves' liver, for its vitamin A and thiamin content. 

Increase Your Intake of Essential Fatty Acids

Include 2-3oz of oily fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon) in your weekly diet. Also switch to flaxseed oil for cooking or salads. 

Eat Whole Grains Rather Than Refined or White Flour Carbohydrates

Eat brown rice (a good source of thiamin, especially beneficial for heavy drinkers), oats, whole wheat pasta and dense chewy breads. As well as providing various essential micronutrients, whole grains improve blood glucose management which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Increase Your Intake of Magnesium and Zinc

Wheatgerm, beans, sesame seeds, dried figs, lemons and almonds are good sources of magnesium, while lean steak, wheatgerm, brewer's yeast, pumpkin seeds and eggs are good sources of zinc.

Foods to Avoid on a Diet for Alcoholics

At the same time on an alcoholics diet, try to avoid foods that can lead to further damage in the same areas as heavy drinking.  These include particularly inflammation promoting foods such as those that are exceptionally high in sugar. It also includes deep fried foods and others that contain an excessive amount of fat, especially when it isn’t a healthy form of fat.