Nutrition in Recovery, Feeding the Brain

Nutrition in Recovery Feeding the Brain

Beverley Hill, MBA, BSc, RD
Consultant Dietitian, Crossroads Centre, Antigua

I always start by reminding the recovering addict that most are undernourished and, in many cases, malnourished. This is not a status symbol but a direct effect of the very nature of substance abuse. When you are feeding a habit, nutrition becomes secondary and this inattention to diet creates deficiencies. Even if you are consuming appropriate foods in appropriate amounts, there could be mal-absorption and mal-digestion due to organ damage therefore, you were not and may still not be able to absorb the consumed nutrients properly. Malnutrition contributes to poor health, which contributes to stress, and stress aggravates PAWS. There is also a reason why Stressed spelled backwards is Desserts which explains why hyper-palatable, high sugar, high fat, low nutrient “junk foods” are often quickly reached for. It is very important that healthy balanced eating is adopted to provide the crucial nutrients needed to improve neuroplasticity, by helping the brain replenish normal amounts of neurotransmitters. Experts, like Christina Veselak, describes nutrition as the third leg of the stool for healing the addicted brain.

While our goal is always to begin and end with healthy food, supplements are required to rebuild the digestive tract and to quickly restore essential nutrient levels. So, which nutrients are crucial?

Macronutrients: Protein, Carbs, Water, Fats and Fiber

Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals & Amino Acids

Supportive Supplements: Gut Repair, Adrenal Support, Cognitive Support and Blood Sugar Support.
Protein is a very important nutrient in the diet for the recovering addict. It should take up 30-40% of your daily food intake. It supplies the body with building blocks for amino acids, necessary for neurotransmitter production, and helps with the creation of hormones, tissues, nerves, blood, bones, skin, and organs. It also helps to balance blood sugar levels.
Fat is more of a friend than a foe and should comprise 20-35% of your daily food intake. The brain is 60% fat. Fat acts as a coat for the body and brain cells, it helps in the production of all hormones, prevents carbohydrate cravings by providing a long smooth energy ride, helps to support a healthy libido and helps to keep bowels regular.

Omega-3s: Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease inflammation and help the brain increase neurotransmitter uptake: examples include salmon, mackerel, sardines, eggs, chia, hemp and flax seeds, walnuts, and leafy greens.

Omega-6s: These fatty acids balanced with omega-3s increase the function of neurotransmitter receptors, helping to increase the overall amount and activity of neurotransmitters in the brain: examples include sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, meats, egg yolks, shellfish, evening primrose and borage oil, hazelnuts, black current oil, and grape seed oil (omega-6s are thought to be pro-inflammatory and tend to be overconsumed in ratio to omega- 3s. The single most important thing you can do to reduce your omega-6 intake is avoid processed seed and vegetable oils that are high in omega-6, as well as the processed foods that contain them i.e., sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils.)

Omega-9s: are also anti-inflammatory and can accelerate healing processes: examples include olive oil (extra virgin cold pressed), avocado oil, sesame oil and some nuts.

Complex carbohydrates should be 50-60% of daily food intake mostly veggies with fruits, legumes, and grains. They are the suppliers of our vitamins and minerals. They provide fuel for energy production, enzymes, and fiber. Ea‌t‌‌ ‌‌t‌he‌‌ ‌‌R‌ai‌nb‌ow‌.

Remember that Simple Carbohydrates are your Foe ☹: They increase cravings, lowers blood sugar/creates mood swings, sleep disturbances, lowers immune system function, heightens pain receptors, increases inflammation, headaches and cause low energy and exhaustion. They are fake food or false fixes and are very addictive.

Incorporate Superfoods like Acai Berry, Algae’s, Berries, Cacao, Camu Camu Berry, Chia Seeds, Flaxseeds, Goldenberry, Goji Berry, Grasses, Hemp Seeds, Maca, Maqui Berry, Mulberry, Pomegranate, Quinoa and Kaniwa, Sea Vegetables, Sacha Inchi Seed, Sprouts, Yacon, Fermented Foods and Bone Broth.

As you continue your recovery journey, be sure to remember to incorporate healthy food choices. Feed the brain!

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