During addiction recovery, many experience depression, lethargy, and mental fogginess. Some may even experience insomnia, digestive abnormalities, and a slew of other symptoms while transitioning to a sober lifestyle. Fortunately, advancements in medical research suggest potentially therapeutic steps we can take to combat some of these unwanted conditions–starting with diet and nutrition.
The Importance of Digestive Health
The gut-brain axis, which refers to the physical communication between the brain and the digestive system, connects our bodies’ enteric and central nervous systems using the microbiome and other chemical messengers throughout the body. These chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, affect our endocrine, immune, humoral, and metabolic systems.
In other words, the health of our digestive systems influences everything from the severity of a common cold to how fast our bodies are able to burn calories during a workout. Food is also intimately connected to our emotional and mental well-being. The health of our gut matters, especially for those who are moving through the recovery process.
Foods To Include in a Healthy Diet
- Lentils and Beans. Packed with protein and fiber, beans and lentils provide a variety of nutrition support, including increased production of particular neurotransmitters [serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine] that boost our mood and balance our sleep cycles. These foods also contain high amounts of B vitamins, non-heme iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium, which help optimize our immune systems and mitigate depression.
- Various Seeds and Nuts. Seeds and nuts are filled with healthy fats, fiber to support digestion, and various other nutrients, such as tryptophan, that play a key role in mood regulation. Substantial research supports the regular intake of nuts to combat moderate depression in certain individuals. With so many varieties to choose from, each nut and seed offers many opportunities to increase brain health and may prove helpful while dealing with the anxiety and stress of the recovery process.
- Berries. Antioxidants are vital to the health of our minds and our gut, and luckily berries are packed with these helpful nutrients. In particular, darker, blue-ish berries, such as blueberries and blackberries, contain high levels of anthocyanins, an antioxidant linked to lowering oxidative stress. Oxidative stress levels affect our anxiety levels, chances of depression, and occurrence of other mental conditions. The daily consumption of berries may support many those in active addiction recovery by providing a rich source of antioxidants, as well as both immune- and mood-boosting goodness. Other great antioxidant sources include dark chocolate and high-quality olive oil.
- Fermented Foods. Live microorganisms found in certain fermented foods supply our bodies with healthy probiotics that feed the gut microbiome. About 90% of serotonin is produced within the digestive tract. Serotonin affects our mood, anxiety levels, stress response, appetite, and sexual vigor. Those moving through the recovery process may find a diet that includes regular consumption of fermented foods and probiotics helpful while combating depression, loss of appetite, and irregular moods.
- Healthy Fats. Fats are not all bad, and those from healthy sources such as fatty fish, nuts, and certain fruits are able to provide a variety of healthy nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA, have significant influence on our moods and are very important to integrate into your daily diet. These healthy fats have been found to lower depression levels and optimize brain cell development. They also are linked to improved cardiovascular health and regulation of harmful cholesterol levels. Eating a serving of nutrient-dense fish, such as salmon, or adding walnuts to your salads may provide a daily boost of vital nutrients that can positively influence our ability to digest both food and emotions.
St. Gregory Can Help
Moving through recovery or supporting someone who is on this journey can be overwhelming and stressful. We often overlook our diets when under pressure, but research increasingly attests to the remarkable affect food has on our mental and physical health. In our Virtuous Life program at St. Gregory Recovery Center, we teach our clients the tools needed to support healthy habits in all aspects of life. We are open, with precautions in place to protect you from the COVID-19 virus. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.