Quit Drinking Alcohol Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Congratulations on deciding to stop drinking alcohol. As many people know, ‘doing it’ is often much harder than making the decision. Yet this diet could give you the support to make quitting alcohol much easier.
While it may be difficult at first, the benefits to your health and vitality are well worth it.
Because your body has been used to getting additional calories/kilojoules from alcohol, which is a simple carbohydrates source (or sugar in other words) you may get cravings for something sweet. But instead of reaching for chocolate, candy bars or sweet soft-drinks/sodas, look at the great snacks in this diet to avoid piling on the kilos.
Also consider what triggers your need for alcohol. Could it be stress, frustration, anger, sadness, elation, celebrations, or other emotions? It’s common to drink at a restaurant, or with another person or a group when you go out – where there can be peer pressure when you want to stop drinking alcohol.
By looking at your triggers you can recognise patterns. Then you can consider changing those patterns and find more loving alternatives. Also ask others for their support to help you to get through this initial phase more easily.
Is this diet going to stop you from drinking alcohol? No – but it can certainly help.
The great news is that eating certain foods can help you keep alcohol cravings under control.
Drinking alcohol in any amount can deplete the body of many vitamins, especially vitamin C, the B group vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. The good news is that there are some specific ingredients that can really support your body during the withdrawal phase. Let’s look at them.
Sugar in its many forms brings a spike of sugar/glucose to the blood, and a subsequent flood of insulin produced by the pancreas to bring the sugar level back down again.
Initially you get a sugar rush and may feel good for a little while, but then the fall in blood sugar can make you feel awful, shaky or faint and crave more sugar or alcohol.
However, eating complex carbohydrates, such as legumes (e.g. hummus dip) and fresh fruits and vegetables, which digest more slowly due to the fibre content, will help to keep your blood sugar levels steady and help to keep cravings under control.
Dopamine Enhancing Foods
Alcohol causes a chemical imbalance in the brain involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Alcohol temporarily increases dopamine, which is why people like to drink because they may initially feel good.
But the downside is when the dopamine level drops, along with the good feelings after a certain point when you have had too much alcohol, or after the effect of the alcohol wears off. We only need to observe people drinking over a period to see this effect.
Chronic alcohol consumption eventually causes dopamine levels to fall and stay below normal, often resulting in the need for an alcoholic ‘fix’ to get back to a state of ‘normality’. Whereas our natural state is one of joy, without needing substances.
Caffeine can trigger dopamine release in your body for a short time, however in the long term it also results in a drop similar to alcohol, so coffee is not a good alternative.
When you first stop drinking alcohol you may feel a withdrawal from dopamine, but by eating dopamine rich foods like bananas and sunflower seeds you raise your dopamine levels naturally and feel better sooner.
Bananas can also increase another neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. Sunflower seeds and bananas are rich in vitamin B which also helps with mood and the ability to cope with stress.
Broccoli, spinach, lettuce, peas, oranges, and melons are brilliant sources of vitamin B, to help fight against alcohol cravings and addiction and to support stress. Vitamin B battles fatigue, aids with red blood cell production for brain and heart function, and is a key ingredient in digestion and metabolism of nutrients.
L-Glutamine Containing Foods
Along with glucose, L-glutamine (an amino acid that helps improve brain function) is one of the main fuels for your brain. L-glutamine is also great for getting quality sleep, decreasing anxiety, and cutting your alcohol cravings by reducing your yearning for sugar.
L-glutamine is easily destroyed by cooking, so it is best obtained from fresh foods. Raw baby spinach and parsley are good sources. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over your food each day, or put food onto a bed of raw baby spinach, or try one of the salad dressings with parsley. Tabouli is also great.
You might consider using a supplement of L-glutamine instead of, or in addition to your diet. But first speak to your practitioner as ammonia can accumulate in the blood if you have cirrhosis of the liver. If mixed with a glutamine supplement the combo can be detrimental to your health until the liver has healed (but food sources are totally fine).
Proteins from red meat, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs etc all break down to amino acids which are the precursors to the neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which help you with cravings.
Protein is also a good food for many bodily functions such as muscle and tissue growth and restoration, sleep quality, and digestion. If you choose quality proteins (grass fed pasture raised animals, organic nuts, seeds etc) you also get a good supply of brain supportive omega-3 fatty acids.
Vitamin C, minerals and anti-oxidant rich foods
If you eat plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables you will get an abundant supply of vitamin C and anti-oxidants that help to replace the nutrients lost by drinking alcohol while repairing damage to your liver at the same time. A bonus! 🙂
More Foods that help the liver when giving up alcohol
Bitter greens like rocket, spinach, parsley, watercress, mustard leaves, and seeds can really stimulate bile flow which comes from the liver and gall bladder to flush out toxins and help clear the liver of damaged cells.
Here are some other foods that can help the liver:
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is common in drinkers. Apples help to get rid of excess fat deposits from the liver. Apples also contain vitamin C and d-glucaric acid that also helps to clear accumulated fats.
The super food kale is a leafy green vegetable that has very high amounts of magnesium and iron – both help the liver to regenerate.
The live bacteria cultures in coconut yoghurt, coconut kefir and cultured vegetables help to activate liver enzymes that make the liver work more efficiently in the detoxification and digestion processes.
Turmeric is a spice that contains the active ingredient curcumin which helps to cleanse the liver of toxins. It’s also anti-inflammatory as a bonus!
Garlic, Onions and Leeks
These sulphur rich foods help to clear the free-radical damage in the liver and support the growth of brand new liver cells.
Lemon & Limes
Lemons and limes are a part of almost every detox diet. Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice has the power of Vitamin C with loads of antioxidants and helps to clear fat from the liver and support detoxification.
Rocket or Arugula (the name depends on what part of the world you live in) is a leafy green that is particularly high in chlorophyll, which is great to detoxify the liver. It is also rich in bile producing substances which help to clear toxins. All dark green and bitter tasting vegetables are great foods for liver regeneration.
An artichoke is known as vegetable, but it is actually a fruit which contains two important chemicals, cynarin and silymarin which boost liver function and immunity. You may find artichoke hearts in brine or oil at the deli, or in jars at the condiment’s section at the supermarket, and sometimes fresh in the veggie section or produce stores.
Have you ever woken up after a big night out on the ‘grog’ (that’s Australian for ‘alcoholic drinks’) and had a hangover that makes you want to eat something greasy like bacon and eggs? Wonder why this helps? The answer lies in the liver.
When you drink alcohol, your poor liver must work like crazy to detoxify the alcohol from your body. This process can make you feel very ‘seedy’. The fats in bacon and eggs make the liver slow detoxification in favour of the new job, which is to produce bile to help break down the fat. While greasy food might help how we feel when we are acutely hung-over, in the long run this food also overworks the liver and stops it from doing its main jobs.
Fatty greasy foods can damage the liver, especially if the fats are super-heated such as: shallow or deep frying; hydrogenated fats i.e. processed margarines; processed fats from cakes, muffins, croissants, pastries and similar. You often see breakfast options at hotels and resorts that slow down the liver (as does bacon and eggs) but with extra sugar to slog your pancreas. For further information click onto the Detoxification Diet.
The best good fats are pure cold pressed vegetable oils, seed oils, olive oils and coconut oil – but only if raw and only if used in small amounts or they too will blow out the liver’s jobs. Coconut oil is safe for heating/cooking, olive oil can tolerate low heat, and rice bran oil and grape seed oil are not too bad if not super-heated.
Dehydration is another aspect of hangovers because alcohol is a diuretic, which means we pee more fluid than we drink (coffee, tea and soft-drinks/sodas also do the same). Alcohol also adversely affects the quality of our sleep.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
I’d like to share how my husband Rod and I gave up alcohol. We didn’t consider that we drank much, but on Friday nights (and sometimes Saturday’s) we shared a bottle of red wine on the balcony, and Rod had two or three beers, along with some nibbles to eat, often followed by dancing around the lounge room. Nevertheless, the following day we often felt gluggy and lethargic.
Every now and then we would ‘detox’ for three months, giving up alcohol, coffee, dairy, sugar, gluten (and other grains) and instead eat lots of yummy nutritious meals with fresh fruits, loads of veggies and salads, and for snacks eat nuts and seeds or various healthy dips like avocado dip with cucumber and carrot rounds etc.
For our Friday evening ‘thing’ we drank sparkling (sugar free) mineral water with a slice of lemon or lime, or float some blueberries or a strawberry to make it feel special, and we would still dance around the lounge room.
After a short period of time, we felt amazing with loads of energy and vitality and didn’t need to sit around to recover and subsequently miss out on weekend fun.
At the end of the three months we would gradually revert to old eating and drinking habits and within a few weeks would feel bloated, tired, sluggish, and not 100%. Several months later we would detox again and the cycle repeated. We did this over two years. Crazy!
In 2006 we decided to stop drinking alcohol for one year. After a few months we felt much better and said why would we want to feel less than this. What was the point of going back to old habits when we could enjoy more energy and vitality most of the time?
I say most of the time because sometimes things would affect us such as stress, overwork, family issues etc but we found there were better ways than alcohol to deal with situations.
Shortly after we stopped, we had a couple of situations where we really felt like having an alcoholic drink. One was something stressful (which I can’t remember, so it must not have been a big deal) and the other was a cause to celebrate something good that happened.
Isn’t it strange how we can turn to alcohol for such opposite emotions? But instead, we went for a walk which was enjoyable and dissipated the desire for alcohol.
Since then we’ve never looked back and alcohol is simply not part of our lives anymore. We still enjoy social occasions, but now with a glass of mineral water and healthy snacks.
As Rod said, when we had a few drinks we’d be lethargic the next day which was wasted, whereas now we’ve now added heaps of days to every year!
Dropping alcohol also contributed to improving our diet. Although we had previously completed three month detoxes, they were not permanent. But when we completely stopped drinking alcohol, the dietary changes were easier to maintain.
First, we eliminated gluten foods and then dairy products, which were reasonably easy because there are so many yummy substitutes available.
We then further refined our diet by removing caffeine and other foods that we felt were not right for our bodies. Sugar was the toughest and we still need to be vigilant, but the benefits have been fantastic for our health, vitality, and love of life.
We were fortunate to go on the same journey together and have each other’s support. I wanted to share our story in the hope that it may encourage you.
Client name and identifying information changed
John had been an occasional drinker since his late teens. After he got married, he and his wife drank one to three drinks each night to relax and wind down from work stress. A couple of years later, John’s wife left him and to cope with the stress and lonely nights, he used alcohol to console himself, drinking six to eight drinks nightly.
John didn’t give his health much thought until he had an insurance medical check-up and the doctor discovered that John had ‘alcoholic fatty liver’. The word ‘alcoholic’ gave John horror feelings as he never really thought of himself as an alcoholic, but his liver said otherwise.
Apart from the liver problems, his cholesterol was elevated, blood pressure borderline high and he looked like he was heading for diabetes. John’s doctor told him to stop drinking immediately if he wanted to save his liver.
That was a real wake up for John, who up until then was just existing from one day to the next. John asked if medication could be delayed while he ‘sorted his life out’ and the doctor agreed to give him three months. John’s ex-wife suggested he make an appointment with me, which was the start of a whole new chapter for him.
We spoke about his diet which was bad. He ate very few vegetables and his diet mainly consisted of pasta and ‘off the shelf’ sauces that were loaded with sugar and salt. He needed to get stuck into more ‘real foods’ such as proteins, fruit and vegetables.
He was very keen and motivated to start an eating plan that would support him. We decided it would be best to detoxify immediately by eliminating all crappy foods, drinks, and additives, and instead, have a wholesome diet of the supportive foods mentioned above.
I advised John that whenever he had a craving for alcohol, to first have a drink of water, then a banana, particularly if it was away from meal times. That really helped him. Initially he ate kilos of bananas in the first couple of weeks, but as he got sick of eating bananas, he found he had no more cravings for alcohol.
As the cravings disappeared, his energy levels improved, particularly with his new diet. John was keen to go to the gym and exercise, which he hadn’t done for years due to stress and fatigue. He enjoyed the exercise, and apart from the physical benefits, he found that it helped him to deal with life’s stresses.
After a couple of months, I checked his blood pressure and blood sugar levels and they were both normal. After the third month John went back to his doctor for more tests and his cholesterol was normal and his liver had improved.
When John came back to see me six months later, he shared the good news that he had found a new love in his life and he was really happy that she was a non- drinker. When I asked what he would have done if she did drink, he said that it wouldn’t have mattered because he was ‘over it’ and didn’t feel the need to drink anymore (but it still helped that she was a non-drinker). John’s blood pictures all looked good and he was happy and healthy once again.