What To Eat When Going Through Alcohol Withdrawal

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A diet with lots of fresh vegetables - especially the green leafy kinds that contain more folic acid - is important for circulation and red blood cell formation, particularly when there are imbalances from quitting drinking [1].

Foods high in B vitamins and minerals are especially important during withdrawal from alcohol, since nutritional deficiencies from prolonged alcohol consumption impair absorption of these nutrients, as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K [2].

Ensure adequate fluid intake to re-balance electrolytes during withdrawal [3].

whattoeatwhengoingthroughalcoholwithdrawal infographic 2

This is best assisted with drinking good quality water, herbal detox teas and eating foods high in H20 and electrolytes, like soups, stews, cucumbers, yogurt, oranges and olives [4].

Foods that increase complex carbohydrates and help withdrawal symptoms include [5]:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Potatoes
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Bananas
  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Buttermilk
  • Olives
  • Beetroot
  • Turmeric Root
  • Grapefruit
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes

Drinking buttermilk, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kevita, probiotic sodas and other products containing pre- and probiotics can be helpful for gut health during recovery and for general hydration [6].

Eating natural unprocessed foods which are nutrient-dense, while drinking at least 2 litres of quality fluids, is critical for lasting recovery [7].

whattoeatwhengoingthroughalcoholwithdrawal infographic 3

Good Alcohol Withdrawal Foods Include:

Fruits & Vegetables

Nutrient rich, easy to digest, hydrating, high in antioxidants, have lots of fibre and can help food cravings.

They should be a staple in any healthy diet.

Good fruits to eat or blend into a smoothie include berries, citrus, peaches, bananas, melons and avocados.

Whole Grains

Complex carbohydrates are a vital energy source and high in fibre, which is good for the gut, particularly following ceasing alcohol intake.

Oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley and whole wheat bread should be part of a well balanced diet, especially after alcohol abuse [8].

Foods Containing Vitamin B

Consuming alcohol over time depletes vitamin B levels, making it necessary to replenish them in the body.

Some of the best foods for this include broccoli, kale, salmon (and other fish), poultry, lean meats, nuts, beans, lentils, eggs and some dairy, like yogurt and cheeses [9].

Proteins Low In Fat

Bone broth is a good source of protein and nutrients.

Other protein-rich foods include seafood, poultry, eggs, soy and lentils [10].

Omega-3 Fats

Essential fatty acids support the nervous system, assist with numerous health problems including impaired cognitive function, and cardiovascular diseases, reduce inflammation, and stabilise mood.

Foods high in these fats include salmon, walnuts, chia, flaxseed and pumpkin seeds [11].

Herbs For Withdrawal:

Garlic, Cayenne Pepper, Parsley Leaf, And Echinacea

Can be added to foods during withdrawal from alcohol:

  • Garlic is a blood cleanser which lowers blood fats and acts as a natural antibiotic [12].
  • Cayenne pepper is a blood purifier which increases fluid elimination and sweat [13].
  • Parsley leaf is a diuretic and flushes the kidneys [14].
  • Echinacea is a lymph cleanser which improves lymphocyte and phagocyte actions [15].

Knowing when and what to eat - but also what not to eat - while detoxing from alcohol is important for overcoming withdrawal symptoms, to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and to help the overall recovery process [16].

Health challenges like high blood pressure, food addictions, weight gain, mood swings and mental health disorder may contribute to difficulties eating the right foods during and after detoxing from alcohol [17].


Foods To Avoid When Stopping Drinking

Withdrawal symptoms can include severe sugar cravings. The high sugar content in alcoholic drinks spikes blood sugar but also increases the release of dopamine in the brain's reward centre [18].

People who struggle with alcohol abuse commonly have low blood sugar [19].

After alcohol cessation, this can lead to a transfer addiction to too much sugar, since the body craves the glucose and dopamine it's no longer receiving from alcohol [20].

To avoid addiction transference and to maintain healthy consumption habits that nourish the body, it's best to avoid excessive amounts of coffee, caffeinated tea, energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, ice cream, donuts, candies, candy bars, cookies, cake, potato chips, microwaved foods and greasy, fatty foods in the form of fast foods or fried foods [21].

How To Deal With Sugar Cravings During Withdrawal

Cravings for sweets may arise while detoxing from alcohol due to decreased glucose and dopamine levels in the body. This can lead to the overconsumption of processed products like cake and ice cream.

Staving off sugar cravings may not seem possible initially. Patience is a key factor while cravings persist, until they begin to taper off with the substitution of healthier foods that are rich in nutrients.

Eating fruit, in moderation, can substitute for eating too much processed sugar while supporting blood sugar content.

Fruit is best consumed on its own, before or between meals. This helps with overeating, allows for better absorption of water, fibre and nutrients in the fruits. It's easier to digest than proteins and fats, and can assist the body in detoxification [22].

Eating healthier alternatives like dried fruits, dark chocolate, cacao nibs and small amounts of honey can help cravings for sweets.

Have Healthy Food On Hand During Withdrawal

New eating habits must be learned or cultivated, and a variety of foods must be introduced into the diet, along with the commitment to living a healthy lifestyle [23].

To avoid eating processed, fatty foods high in sugar and salt content, be sure to have convenient, healthy foods on-hand. 

Foods ready to be eaten directly after washing include:

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Celery
  • Cucumber or carrot sticks
  • Apple slices
  • Nut butter
  • Whole nuts
  • Whole wheat, flax, chia
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Low-fat cheeses
  • Baby tomatoes
  • Soup
  • Kefir
  • Sliced pears
  • Homemade popcorn
  • Baked chips (vegetable, rice, lentil)

Healthy snacks are a great alternative to junk food and can assist those who desperately crave sugar or salt, but can simultaneously help with proper brain function, detoxification and immune system support [24].

Cultivating new eating habits and helping to curb calories obtained from junk food is an important step to maintaining optimal health [25].

Eating well, being patient, learning new habits, preparing nourishing meals, and being compassionate after substance abuse are some key practices to staying consistent when going through withdrawal and addiction treatment [26].

Get Professional Nutritional Help

Learning what best foods to eat when quitting drinking varies from body to body, depending on blood, hormone, cholesterol, vitamin/mineral deficiency levels, age and gender.

Getting customised recommendations on what foods are best for your body is best discussed with a licensed medical professional or other specialist in nutrition and/or alcohol recovery.

Professional guidance on what to eat, how to curb hunger cravings, how to limit junk foods or restrict empty caloric intake can help establish new, positive dietary habits and shorten the healing curve significantly.

It's critical to rectify nutrient deficiencies, consume healthy fats like hemp seeds and olive oil, know which supplements to use and to know what foods to eat when experiencing withdrawal symptoms [27]. 

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About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: November 8, 2023