Maintaining, Healing and Even Thriving in Early Recovery PART VI

Returning to the conversation:

Today we are returning to our conversation about what the naturopathic perspective on healing, maintaining health, and thriving in early recovery. This is the 6th installment in this series. (To read prior blog Part V click here!)

Here at BTG, the philosophy of healing is integrative using the best of modern medicine, therapy, and complimentary practices. Remember that a Naturopath’s focus is to “identify the cause of problems, eliminate toxins, recommend substances to deal with deficiencies, and stimulate the body’s own natural healing abilities.”[i] Naturopaths believe that the body tends toward healing if given the resources.  Today we continue the conversation about what resources are required to heal from substance abuse.

Healing the Body: Reestablishing a rhythm and a way of life

Substance use causes negative lifestyle changes, such as irregular eating and poor diet.[ii]

Where there is limited access to food, (one study reported 64% of the drug addicts (n=196)), [results from] a lack of money.  Addicts had a special preference for sweet food items (61% of their respondents), males more frequently had dinner while females ate more snack meals, and intake of vitamins and minerals were below the Recommended Intake. A reduced supply of essential nutrients over a prolonged period of time may in itself contribute to sickness and reduced wellbeing[iii]

One study’s findings reveal that nutrition education, particularly with a substance abuse treatment focus provided within a group setting, is associated with positive substance abuse treatment outcomes and should be included as a component of substance abuse treatment.[iv]

Reinstating healthy eating patterns to promote a healthy life practice

One study describes how addiction can leave the client craving:

“Craving or seeking relief of need is a survival behavior under the influence of the reward pathway in the brain which are themselves altered by nutritional need. Thus, food deprivation lowers the threshold for activation of reward pathways, increasing sensitivity to drugs of abuse as well as food, potentially further reinforcing consumption of either; Nutrient deficiencies may also contribute to cravings or at least encourage drug seeking”[v]

Dr Gale R. Hamilton a pioneer in nutrition and addiction shares these very practical words:

“If we are not getting the nutrients we need, we will crave more food and thus over eat calories.” Dr. Hamilton recommended eating to increase nutrients. “If we focus on increasing nutrients, our bodies will function more efficiently so that more nutrients are available for the jobs they have to perform.” She suggested allowing the individual to indulge in whole foods; “the new foods will taste so good that you may overeat in the beginning and that’s ok. Stabilization of hunger signal will happen as your body is able to receive the nutrients needed”[vi]

Sometimes this takes time for the client to adjust to the new flavors and tastes, but the appreciation for less processed more nutrient dense foods does come.

Whole Foods for Your Health!

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a variety of whole foods as a part of a healthy eating pattern. They recommend making half of the grains eaten whole grains; this would include whole grain breads, brown rice, polenta, and quinoa.

Eat a variety of vegetables dark green, red and orange, legumes, starchy and other vegetables. Eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products and nuts and seeds.

Eat Fat-free and low-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese and/or fortified soy beverages.  These recommendations make special effort to limit saturated fats to less than 10% of daily calories and keep trans-fats intake as low as possible.  Added sugars should be kept low also at 10% of daily calories. Sodium levels are recommended to be kept at less than 2,300mg a day.

Whole grains are known to effect glucose and insulin responses, partly due to their slow digestibility. Glycemic Index (GI) is a way of measuring the blood glucose response to a standard amount of a specific food. Foods with low GI produce small rises in blood sugar and blood insulin. Several studies have shown that cereal-fiber intake is associated with a reduced risk for Diabetes.[vii]

Also, “consumption of diets low in carbohydrate tends to precipitate depression, since the production of brain chemicals serotonin and tryptophan that promote the feeling of well-being, is triggered by carbohydrate rich foods. It is suggested that low glycemic index (GI) foods such as some fruits and vegetables, whole grains, pasta, etc. are more likely to provide a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, mood, and energy level than the high GI foods – primarily sweets – that tend to provide immediate but temporary relief”[viii]

 Why whole foods?

Whole foods contain all of the enzymes that are needed for that food to be digested, and are “responsible for the biochemical reactions that bring plants to ripeness. The enzymes found in all raw foods are … responsible for the benefits given to vitamins and minerals.”[ix]

Abram Hoffer explains, “Given our present state of technology, there is no way to process a food into as nutritious a product as the original food… plants manufacture food with which to feed themselves; people do not. People eat and digest food to release essential nutrients and make them available to the body. The body in turn, mobilizes the food into energy or into structural components. In the absence of nutrient rich components there is an immediate imbalance in the human body” [x]

A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition elaborates: “Epidemiologic studies consistently show that consumption of whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, is strongly associated with reduced risk of chronic diseases. We [propose] that the additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables are responsible for their potent antioxidant and anticancer activities, and that the benefit of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is attributed to the complex mixture of phytochemicals present in whole foods”[xi]

Do Not Forget Your Protein

Protein is also essential for the recovering addict, Eating good sources of protein can be essential to a steady release of energy and support of neurochemistry in the brain. Julia Ross a pioneer in the field of nutrition and addiction elaborates,

“Without adequate protein you cannot feel optimistic, enthusiastic, calm, or comforted. The neurotransmitters that send out all of these positive feelings can be made only by using certain of the twenty-two types of protein called “amino-acids”. The more protein, the better you’re able to feel. Most people seem to need 20-30 grams of protein per meal. That means approximately a palm-of-your-hand sized portion of protein three times daily.”[xii]

In active addiction, malnutrition can also result from a lack of: money, available outlets to purchase nutrient dense food, access to cooking facilities, knowledge about cooking, confidence in cooking, motivation/desire to eat and/or education about the importance of food.[xiii]

“Learning how to make meals that are satisfying and nutritious can release a client from relying on fast convenience foods in early recovery.”  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also recommend that “with home prepared meals, you have control over the nutrition and the safety of the food served at your table; the ingredients, their nutrient quality and calorie content, the ways food is stored and prepared; the flavors, freshness and visual appeal; and the portion size, for these reasons, home-cooked meals can be deliciously healthy, allow for more variety with fewer calories, and be served in sensible portion sizes[xiv]

Progress not perfection:

Encouraging a client to do the best they can and to get the best nutrition possible for given their circumstance is our focus. A 2002 study showed that fresh and frozen vegetables retained many of their antioxidant properties but it was significantly less for canned or jarred vegetables. Overcooking of any vegetable causes it to lose a significant amount of antioxidants.[xv]

Processing can reduce some nutrient values and we encourage clients to tend towards fresh or frozen vegetables.

Naturopaths may recommend supplements to help build the body up and correct an imbalance, but the starting place needs to be with whole food nutrition. The eating habits we have today will influence a life and health in the future. Making the link between how we feel when we eat well and when we don’t can be a powerful motivator for sustained healthy eating patterns.

Here at BTG, we help the client make that connection and support in many ways with food. Our focus is on teaching them how to cook and create the home cooked meal described earlier in this article. We also work with them individually to create eating plans to help them achieve their nutritional goals.

There are many things to think about with food but what we recommend is just starting with the next right thing. Start with your next meal make it good, full of nutritious foods, at least as much as you can. Keep working on it, and adding in the good stuff! Pay attention to how satisfied you are and when you’re slightly full to eat closer to what you need. And how you feel when you eat well, but most of all enjoy it!

Join us for the next session when we discuss the role of sleep in early recovery.


[i]. Thiel, Robert J. Combining old and new: Naturopathy for the 21st Century. Witman Publications. Indiana. (2011).

[ii]. Medline plus Enyclopedia Article. “Diet and Substance Abuse Recovery” 2017

[iii]. Saeland, M., M. Haugen, F-L. Eriksen, M. Wandel, A. Smehaugen, T. Böhmer, and A. Oshaug. “High sugar consumption and poor nutrient intake among drug addicts in Oslo, Norway.” British journal of nutrition 105, no. 4 (2011): 618-624.

[iv]. Grant, Louis P., Betsy Haughton, Dileep S. Sachan. Nutrition Education is positively associated with substance abuse treatment program outcomes. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 104 No. 4. 2004: 604-610.

[v]. Jeynes, Kendall D., and E. Leigh Gibson. “The importance of nutrition in aiding recovery from substance use disorders: A review.” Drug & Alcohol Dependence 179 (2017): 229-239.

[vi]. Hamilton, Gayle R. “Nutrition and Behavior” George Mason University. 1997.

[vii]. Slavin, Joanne. “Whole grains and human health.” Nutrition research reviews 17, no. 1 (2004): 99-110.

[viii]. Rao, TS Sathyanarayana, M. R. Asha, B. N. Ramesh, and KS Jagannatha Rao. “Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 50, no. 2 (2008): 77.

[ix]. Loomis, Howard F. Enzymes, The key to health vol. 1 the fundamentals. 21st century nutrition publishing. Wyoming. 2012:64.

[x]. Hoffer, Abram. Walker, Morton. Putting it all together: The new orthomolecular nutrition. Keats Publishing. Connecticut. 1996:58

[xi]. Liu, Rui Hai. “Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 78, no. 3 (2003): 517S-520S.

[xii]. Ross, Julia.  A clean and sober brain: Using Amino Acids and a pro-recovery diet to transform the addicted brain.  Gore, Virginia. 2012.

[xiii]. Jeynes, Kendall D., and E. Leigh Gibson. “The importance of nutrition in aiding recovery from substance use disorders: A review.” Drug & Alcohol Dependence 179 (2017): 229-239.

[xiv]. Duyff, Roberta L. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York (2017)

[xv]. Hunter, Karl J., and John M. Fletcher. “The antioxidant activity and composition of fresh, frozen, jarred and canned vegetables.” Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 3, no. 4 (2002): 399-406.

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