An addiction recovery cookbook, you say?
Yes – we do say.
Does such a thing exist?
Yes. It – well actually, they – do, indeed, exist. (Scroll to the end of this article for our list.)
Because chronic substance use – and long-term alcohol and/or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) – can have a negative impact on nutrition. Here are the big-picture problems related to poor nutrition that impact people diagnosed with and alcohol or substance use disorder (AUD/SUD):
- Some substances suppress appetite, while intoxication may cause people to forget/skip meals. Eating three healthy meals a day is important in maintaining overall physical health. Overall physical health increases likelihood of successful recovery.
Unhealthy Eating Habits
- Intoxication, hangovers, and other factors can lead to a diet high in sugar, processed/packaged foods, and fast food. For anyone with questions about the impact of long-term consumption of fast food on physical health, please watch the 2003 documentary Super-Size Me.
- Opioids, amphetamines, and alcohol can compromise gastrointestinal health, and prevent the stomach and GI tract from efficiently absorbing essential nutrients. Without the ability to extract nutrients from food, physical health suffers.
- Chronic consumption of substances of misuse can damage organs vital to overall health, as well as those crucial in breaking down and processing the vitamins, nutrients, and other ingredients in food essential to our health and survival. As we observe in the bullet point above, when the body can’t efficiently process healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, physical health suffers.
Now let’s take a look at the nutritional problems associated with different substance of misuse and disordered use.
The Impact of Alcohol and Substances on Nutrition
The negative effects of addiction on nutrition and health vary by the substances used or misused. We list the general problems caused by the disordered use of substances on physical health above. We’ll share the specific nutritional problems associated with alcohol, opioids, and stimulants below.
- Chronic alcohol consumption can impair and damage the liver and the pancreas. Both organs generate enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals that facilitate digestion. When alcohol impairs the production of these important digestive chemicals, overall physical health can deteriorate due to malnutrition.
- Chronic alcohol misuse can lead to deficiency in folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Chronic opioid misuse often causes people skip meals, forget to eat due to intoxication, and decrease consumption of fruits and vegetables.
- Opioids can cause constipation. Severe and chronic constipation can suppress appetite and make eating undesirable, or even painful.
- Stimulants suppress appetite, which can lead to dangerous weight loss and malnutrition
- Chronic stimulant use and intoxication can cause stimulant users to go days, weeks, or months without adequate nutrition, or with barely adequate nutrition. True malnutrition – which is a real consequence of stimulant use – can cause problems with every important system in the body.
Let’s pause on that last bullet point, and talk about malnutrition. Severe, long-term, chronic substance use can lead to undernutrition and micronutrient undernutrition. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the following types of malnutrition:
- Undernutrition: wasting, stunting, and low weight-to-height increases risk of frequent illness and death from communicable/infectious disease
- Micronutrient undernutrition: micronutrients help the body produce hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals essential for development, growth, and smooth physical function.
In summary, malnutrition/poor nutrition caused by alcohol or substance use disorder can lead to problems with:
- Nervous system, including the brain
- Digestive system
- Cardiovascular/circulatory system
- Immune system
- Musculoskeletal system
- Endocrine system
The information makes it clear: addiction can lead to poor nutrition and poor nutrition can lead to a wide range of serious health problems resulting in poor physical health. Here’s the last connection to make: poor physical health can have a negative impact on recovery, while good physical health – supported by proper nutrition – can have a positive impact on recovery.
Nutrition in Addiction Treatment
That’s why almost every residential addiction treatment program prioritizes healthy food: it lays the groundwork for a healthy body, which is literally the foundation of a successful recovery. As part of an intake assessment, clinicians at most highly regarded treatment centers ask new patients some variation the following questions:
How many meals a day do you eat?
What do you typically eat at each meal?
Do you eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables?
Do you eat at home most days/nights or eat out at a restaurant?
Has your substance use had any kind of impact – positive or negative – on your eating habits?
Has your substance use caused any significant weight gain or loss?
Do you know how to shop for food and cook for yourself?
Depending on their answers, the clinician may set up an extra appointment/assessment with either the staff physician or the staff dietician/nutritionist. A patient who shows signs of malnutrition will need to consult a doctor to identify any specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies that can be remedied with food or supplements, whereas a person with poor eating habits will likely only need to consult with a dietician to create a healthy meal plan for their time in treatment.
The Best Foods for Addiction Recovery
This is very simple: the best simple foods for recovery are whole foods. Whole foods are foods that have not been processed, and contain all the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that processing food often removes.
Whole foods that contain vitamins and mineral essential include those rich in the following chemicals:
- Tyrosine, an amino acid associated with dopamine production. Find tyrosine in soybeans, lean beef, lamb, pork, whole grains, cheese, sunflower seeds, and bananas.
- L-glutamine, an amino acid associated with the efficient immune function and reduction of sugar cravings. Find L-glutamine in leafy green vegetables, beets, carrots, legumes, and lean protein like chicken, fish, beef, dairy, and eggs.
- Antioxidants, which are associated with enhanced immune function. Find antioxidants in fresh fruits, especially blueberries.
- GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of calm and satisfaction. Find GABA in foods like shrimp, yogurt, and cherries.
- Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with positive, happy emotions. Find tryptophan in cheese, turkey, tuna, oat bran, and legumes.
We need to reiterate that a diet that promotes recovery is really a diet that promotes overall health. While deficits in the chemicals above are associated with chronic substance misuse, the fact is that a healthy diet – like those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and he American Heart Association (AHA) – includes ample amounts of the recovery-friendly chemicals listed above.
Here’s what the experts say about a healthy diet. Any addiction recovery recipes or addiction recovery cookbook should follow the guidelines below for a diet that promotes total, holistic health:
To support addiction recovery, eat 5 servings of fresh vegetables every day. One serving of fresh vegetables:
- 1 cup of raw leafy greens
- ½ cup of canned, frozen, or fresh vegetables
- ½ cup of vegetable juice
It’s important to check the label on frozen or canned vegetables: skip the ones with added sugar or preservatives.
To support addiction recovery, make whole grains at least 51 percent of your grain intake. Whole grains are unprocessed grains, and contain the iron, fiber, and B-vitamins necessary for optimal health. The CDC The best whole grains are whole wheat, wild rice, unprocessed oatmeal, brown rice, and – special bonus – popcorn.
To support recovery, eat at least 2-3 servings of fresh fruit every day. One portion of fruit:
- An apple, orange, or banana
- ½ cup of frozen or canned fruit
- ¼ cup of dried fruit
- ¼ cup of fruit juice
When buying canned or frozen fruit, read the labels: skip the products with added sugar and/or preservatives. Also, it’s important to know that fruit juice often contains high fructose corn syrup, which is not recovery friendly. Read the labels, and default to products with a simple list of ingredients, like this: oranges, water.
Lean protein is healthy protein. Beans, nuts, lean meats, and low- or no-fat dairy products all contain lean, health protein. To support addiction recovery, eat at least 5 ½ ounces of health protein every day. One ounce of protein is equivalent to:
- ¼ cup of beans
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
Note: 1 cup of ground beef contains about 8 ounces of protein. When choosing chicken, beef, or pork, always try to choose the leanest, least processed option.
Fats and Oils
To support recovery, consume no more than 3 tablespoons of health fat and oil every day. Healthy fats and oils include:
Experts advise avoiding fats such as butter, lard, and partially hydrogenated fats. For optimal health, the experts advise consuming no more than 3 tablespoons (9 teaspoons) of oil or fat per day.
Cut Back on Processed Foods
Rule of thumb: processed foods always come in some sort of packaging, and in most cases, have a long list of additives and preservatives. When shopping, try to choose foods that come in their own wrappers (corn, potatoes, fruits, etc.) and avoid products with long lists of words that look like they’re from a chemistry textbook.
Decrease Sugar and Salt Consumption
We know, we know. Sugar and salt improve the flavor of just about everything. We don’t say you need to cut sugar and salt completely, but we guarantee your health will improve if you reduce your intake of white, processed sugar and regular table salt.
Those recommendations come from people who know, and we should pay attention to them, and although it may be hard to follow the science-based dietary guidelines to a “t,” what matter is that we do our best. If we can follow those rules more days than not, we’re heading in the right direction.
Addiction Recovery Cookbooks: Self-Care for a Happy Belly
If you’ve ever been in treatment, you probably took classes on basic life skills. Cooking is an essential life skill it’s important to develop as an independent and responsible adult. Few of us can afford to eat our every single meal, and it’s very rewarding to plan a meal, purchase the ingredients, and make it yourself from scratch.
From soup to nuts, as it were.
Cooking is indeed an outstanding recovery activity: it’s simple, it’s healthy, it takes time and patience, and at the end, you get to sit down to a satisfying meal.
What could be better than that?
To make this happen in your own life, we suggest using the following cookbooks. They’re all filled with great recipes, and they’re all focused on one thing: recovery.
Pinnacle Treatment Centers: The Four Best Recovery Cookbooks
- Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Advice for a Lifetime of Sobriety by Liz Scott. Every word in this outstanding book is recovery friendly. It helps you handle cravings, gives you recipes and ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and includes excellent dessert and beverage recipes, too. This book is a go-to recovery cooking resource, from soup to salad to full meals for the whole family or a dinner party of recovery peers.
- Eating for Recovery: The Essential Nutrition Plan to Reverse the Physical Damage of Alcoholism by Molly Siple. This book is both practical and comprehensive. If you’re new to cooking and the kitchen, it can function as a how-to book. If you’re an experienced cook, you’ll love the creative simplicity of the recipes. The book contains a 12-day start up plan, as well as helpful shopping lists, tips on which foods to eat to improve your mood, and helpful advice for finding recovery friendly meal when you’re eating out at restaurant.
- Absolutely Abstinent by Kay Sheppard. This addiction recovery cookbook contains recipes with no sugar, flour, or wheat: food allergies beware – this book will keep you happy and full no matter what your dietary challenges are. Best of all, the recipes are fast, inexpensive, and easy. No excuses: you can eat healthy, recovery friendly food on a tight budget. It’s designed for people with food addiction and/or eating disorders, but the recipes are helpful for people with substance addictions because they speak the language of compassionate recovery throughout the book and related materials.
- The Malibu Beach Recovery Diet by Joan Borsten. This is a cookbook by someone who knows what she’s talking about. Joan Borsten founded and operated an addiction treatment center herself. Although she has since sold the center and now acts as a consultant, the recipes in this book are a result of that hands-on experience. They’re collaboration between the author, her husband, and the on-site chef at her recovery center. In fact, we’ll close this article by giving you three recipes straight out of this book.
Bonus: Three Delicious and Nutritious Recipes
Click the links, cook the food, and enjoy!