Certain foods can help ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. A balanced diet is essential to replenish nutrients and restore physical and mental health during a detox.
Nutrition is critical during detox because it helps ease the symptoms of withdrawal and restore physical and mental health. Chronic heavy drinking impairs gut health and nutrient absorption1, so many chronic drinkers are depleted of vitamins A, B, C and E as well as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Eating foods to replenish these nutrients can help reduce common withdrawal symptoms like nausea, anxiety, headaches and cravings.
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down communication between the brain and the nervous system. The brain compensates for the effect of alcohol by producing extra stimulants, so when a person stops drinking, the nervous system is suddenly in an overactive state. This imbalance is what causes the intense symptoms of withdrawal.
Eating a balanced diet that replenishes nutrient deficiencies can help a person manage withdrawal symptoms and increase the likelihood of a healthy recovery. These eight food groups can help.
Fruits have a high water content and can help keep a person hydrated during the withdrawal period. They’re also a good source of fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C.
It’s common to crave sweet foods when detoxing from alcohol because sugar can mimic the effect of alcohol on the brain. While small amounts of sugar from fruit are fine, overindulging in sugary foods can contribute to withdrawal anxiety and cravings.
If nausea or vomiting symptoms make it difficult for a person to eat solid food, fresh or frozen fruit can be blended into a smoothie that may be easier to tolerate. Fruits to eat during detox due to their high water and vitamin content include:
Vegetables also have a high water content and are packed with nutrients and fiber. Fiber helps keep blood sugar levels steady, which reduces irritability2, anxiety and cravings. Fiber also fuels healthy gut bacteria. Orange and green leafy vegetables are very rich in calcium, potassium and vitamins A, B and C.
The most nutritious vegetables to eat during detox include:
- Leafy greens like kale and spinach
- Brussels sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Red bell peppers
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats and minerals that are depleted with heavy alcohol use. The omega-3 fats3 found in walnuts, chia and flax seeds can help stabilize mood and improve brain function. Almonds are a good source of calcium, which helps with nervous system function. Nuts and seeds are also high in calories, so if a person is struggling with nausea, a small handful of nuts provides a good dose of nutrients.
Nuts and seeds to include during detox include:
- Flax, chia and hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Whole grains are high in fiber and B vitamins that help improve the symptoms of withdrawal. B vitamins, especially thiamin4, folate and B6, boost energy and are essential for the nervous system function. Whole grains are also a source of complex carbs, which keep blood sugar steady and provide sustained energy. Carbohydrates and B vitamins are also involved in the production of serotonin6, which improves mood and reduces cravings.
Good whole grain options include:
- Brown or black rice
- Whole wheat bread or pasta
The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which directly influence withdrawal symptoms. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have a special type of omega-3 fat called DHA, which plays a major role3 in brain signaling. Plant-based proteins like edamame and lentils have the added benefit of fiber, B vitamins and minerals.
If nausea makes it difficult for a person to eat solid food, bone broth might be better tolerated and is high in protein and electrolytes.
The best proteins to support a detox include:
- Soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh)
- Beans and lentils
Prolonged heavy drinking can disrupt the gut biome. Healing the gut improves digestion, absorption of nutrients and serotonin production. Around 95% of serotonin6 is produced in the gut, but production is irregular during alcohol withdrawal. A healthy gut can help to normalize it. Improving gut health has also been shown to improve the health of the liver and kidneys7 — the body’s main detox organs.
In addition to probiotic supplements, foods that support gut health include:
- Kimchi and pickled veggies
- Sourdough bread
Cayenne pepper can soothe withdrawal symptoms like nausea, stomach pain and headaches. Cayenne has been shown to reduce stomach upset8 and improve digestion by stimulating enzymes in the stomach. It can also help boost healthy gut bacteria and has been shown to relieve headaches. Sprinkling a small amount of cayenne onto your food or sipping on a Mexican hot chocolate is an easy way to help soothe withdrawal symptoms.
Foods Low in Sodium
Sodium is an important electrolyte, but too much of it can cause dehydration. Since withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea and sweating already make a person dehydrated, choosing low-sodium foods can help lessen these symptoms. High-sodium foods to avoid include:
- Processed foods
- Deli meats
- Canned beans
- Bottled condiments and sauces
Low-sodium foods to focus on include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Fresh meat
- Most dairy
- Dry whole grains and beans
- Unsalted nuts
Eating a balanced diet can help manage the alcohol withdrawal symptoms and restore physical and mental health during recovery. The right foods provide essential nutrients that ease physical symptoms like nausea, headaches and cravings. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber will help restore healthy gut bacteria and replenish nutrients that are depleted by heavy drinking. These effects can help the body heal faster and promote better health in recovery.
It’s important to note that some alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening if not treated. In cases where severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur, it’s best to have medical assistance during the detox process.
The Recovery Village provides medical detox services that treat any dangerous or uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may emerge, making detox a much safer process. If you or someone you love is ready to quit alcohol, contact us today to learn more about detox and treatment programs that can work well for your situation.
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- National Institutes of Health. “Alcohol and Nutrition.” Alcohol Alert, October 1993. Updated October 2000. Accessed January 21, 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Does What You Eat Affect Your Mood?” January 12, 2021. Accessed January 21, 2022.
- Harrar, Sari. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders.” Today’s Dietitian, January 2012. Accessed January 21, 2022.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Substance use recovery and diet.” MedlinePlus, January 12, 2022. Accessed January 21, 2022.
- Salz, Alyssa. “CPE Monthly: Substance Abuse and Nutrition.” Today’s Dietitian, December 2014. Accessed January 23, 2022.
- Terry, Natalie; Margolis, Kara Gross. “Serotonergic Mechanisms Regulating the G[…]herapeutic Relevance.” Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, 2017. Accessed January 21, 2022.
- Kieffer, Dorothy A.; et al. “Impact of Dietary Fibers on Nutrient Man[…], Liver, and Kidneys.” Advances in Nutrition, November 10, 2016. Accessed January 23, 2022.
- Cleveland Clinic. “Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper.” November 30, 2021. Accessed January 21, 2022.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.