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Alcoholism and Diet

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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 Alcoholic 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 Alcoholic's Anonymous or some other detox or alcohol rehabilitation program is vital to maximize the effectiveness of any diet for 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.