When we first give up alcohol, our nutritional needs are higher than usual. Alcohol strips key nutrients out of our bodies – especially the vitamins and minerals needed for our organs to create natural feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. As well as improving our moods, replenishing these depleted nutrients gives the body energy, helps repair and rebuild organ tissue and strengthens the immune system.
Eating the right food when you are beginning your alcohol free journey is really important.
Here are my top five recommendations for what to eat when you give up booze:
1/ Soups and smoothies
When you first go alcohol free, don’t force yourself to eat heavy meals, even if they’re healthy. Instead, focus on eating soups and other liquids to help keep you hydrated.
Alcohol puts a strain on the digestive system and your body might struggle to process really fibre-packed meals. Soups and smoothies are easy to digest, and they’re super hydrating.
Alcohol dehydrates the body so we have to work twice as hard to get hydrated when we stop drinking. Consuming liquids like soup can ease the severity of any symptoms like fatigue, anxiety and nausea.
2/ Calcium rich foods
Alcohol interferes with calcium absorption and takes calcium out of the bones, so it’s really important to try and replenish calcium when you stop drinking alcohol.
Try eating calcium rich foods like poppy seeds, sesame seeds or the paste that’s made out of sesame seeds – tahini. Cheese is another good source of calcium. Parmesan has the most – one ounce gives you 33 percent of the calcium you need each day. Yoghurt and milk are other good sources. But if you want to try to avoid eating too much dairy – plant based calcium sources like tofu and kale are good alternatives.
3/ B vitamins
Another group of nutrients that alcohol quickly depletes from the body are B vitamins. Boosting your B’s will help give you more energy and help you to sleep more deeply.
Research has shown that vitamin B3, or niacin, helps to remove alcohol from the body. Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, helps support adrenal function and also helps rid the body of alcohol. And if you are suffering from insomnia and anxiety, vitamin B6, pyridoxine, is crucial for the production of serotonin and melatonin.
Salmon is high in several B vitamins. Leafy greens, like spinach and romaine lettuce are good sources of folate (B9), eggs are a top source of biotin (B7), and beef boasts high amounts of B3, B6 and B12. Other good sources of B vitamins include milk, chicken, lentils and nutritional yeast.
4/ Carbohydrates—yes, really!
Carbs have a bad name when it comes to most diets. But in reality, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and without them, the brain doesn’t function well. Blood sugar can become unstable if you don’t eat enough carbs – and trigger waves of frustration, anxiety and cravings. You need carbohydrates, especially when you first stop drinking. Potatoes, oats, brown rice, beans and lentils are all good choices – they’re unrefined and packed full of nutrients. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables too. People don’t often think of veg as sources of complex carbohydrates but in fact they’re some of the best we have available. All this fibre will help to cut alcohol cravings too.
5/ Nuts– for easy snacking
Try to keep a bag of nuts on hand to avoid mood swings when you get hungry to rescue yourself from sugar crashes, and stay strong against alcohol cravings. They’re full of protein and other nutrients.
Almonds are a great choice. They are very high in magnesium which helps control blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Brazil nuts are packed full of the powerful antioxidant selenium, which is required for immune cell productions and can help restore liver function.
If you find it difficult to digest nuts, opt for other snacks like rice crackers, fruit, muesli bars, chia puddings, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dips.
And what to avoid if you can:
Since alcohol is heavy on sugar, it’s common for people who give up booze to crave sugary snacks and sweets. Try to minimise your consumption if you can. Refined carbs like sugar break down quickly and can cause a sugar rush that ends in a crash, sudden hunger, cravings, and could potentially lead you to give into temptation.
You should try to avoid too much caffeine too. Caffeine overstimulates the nervous system causing increased anxiety and insomnia. Switch to herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee if you can.
Don’t worry about making all of these changes at once. You’re already making a big transformation by giving up alcohol. Pack your lunch-box with plenty of snacks to stabilise your energy and go for soups and smoothies if you’ve got any tummy troubles. Your diet doesn’t have to be perfect – but eating more healthily will really help your body adjust as you get used to being alcohol-free.