Eating foods high in zinc, vitamins A and C, and antioxidants can help strengthen your immune system.
Food marketing is a part of our everyday lives, whether we actively think about it or not. When you’re at the grocery store, colorful packaging of chips and ice cream catch your eye. When you’re watching TV, fast food brand commercials show happy people eating their products.
Food in friendly packaging from welcoming brands can’t be that bad, right?
French fries, cookies, and sugary drinks taste delicious, yes. But they aren’t the best foods for someone in addiction recovery. They also will not do much for your immune health, which is needed to aid your recovery and protect you from diseases like the coronavirus (COVID-19).
In this post, we’ll explain how addiction has affected your immune system, introduce nine immune-boosting foods you should include in your pro-recovery diet, share several foods that can help lift your mood, and recommend five healthy meal delivery services that can help you stay on track during recovery.
How Addiction Affects Your Immune Health
Your immune system is like your body’s own personal bodyguard that works around the clock to protect you from viruses and bacteria, neutralize harmful substances in the body, and fight off illnesses and diseases.
Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs can keep your immune system from carrying out these responsibilities. This is because substance misuse significantly affects your body and brain. Alcoholism and other drug addictions leave you dehydrated and fatigued and become the focus of your diet instead of healthy foods. These side effects of substance misuse ultimately weaken your immune system.
If we examine a few key substances, here’s how they affect your immune health:
- Alcohol:Long-term alcoholism can disrupt the digestive system, which is responsible for breaking down the healthy foods you eat. Alcohol misuse can also harm the liver, the organ responsible for storing vitamins your immune system needs to stay strong and healthy.
- Opioids:Painkillers like morphine weaken the immune system directly by suppressing three different types of white blood cells your immune system needs. Heroin damages the digestive system similarly to alcohol, triggering a lack of healthy nutrition needed for immune health.
- Cocaine:This drug disrupts a protein within the immune system needed to keep you healthy. When this protein doesn’t function properly, you’re susceptible to more illnesses, diseases, and infections.
Add These 9 Immune System Booster Foods to Your Recovery Diet
Fortunately, you can reverse the damage done to your immune system by eating a healthy and balanced diet. In addiction treatment and recovery, incorporate these nine immune-boosting foods into your diet to help your body and mind heal after substance misuse:
- Almonds and Seeds:Almonds and seeds (e.g., sunflower seeds) contain vitamins C and E. These vitamins are crucial to your immune health as you recover from addiction. If you don’t like eating them plain, almonds and seeds are great to add to Greek yogurt and smoothies.
- Sweet Potatoes:Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A. This vitamin helps the immune system develop white blood cells needed to fight off bacteria and viruses to keep you healthy and going strong day in and day out.
- Kale or Spinach:Leafy greens like kale and spinach are high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and other elements that are beneficial for immune cells in the gut. These foods are great to include in smoothies or as additions to soups and sauces.
- Garlic:Fresh garlic cloves aren’t just good for flavoring recipes. In fact, garlic can improve immune cell function and boost your immune health as you recover from substance misuse.
- Baked Beans:Baked beans are a great source of zinc, another element needed to keep your immune system up. If your body has low zinc levels, your immune system can’t function as well as it should. Baked beans are also a valuable source of protein if you don’t eat poultry.
- Blueberries:Blueberries are delicious and high in antioxidants that your body needs to protect itself from seasonal colds and other illnesses. Add blueberries to fruit salads, eat them separately, or mix them into smoothies to keep your immune system strong.
- Greek Yogurt:Greek yogurt is healthier than traditional yogurt because it contains less sugar and is higher in protein. This type of yogurt is rich in probiotics that immune cells in your gut need to protect you from germs and bacteria. If you don’t like plain yogurt, try mixing in berries, almonds, or seeds for additional flavor.
- Salmon:Wild salmon is another food that is high in zinc. This action-packed, immune-boosting food can help ward off colds and ease the symptoms and duration of illnesses if you do get sick.
- Whole Grain Bread:Like spinach and kale, whole grain bread contains anti-inflammatory antioxidants crucial for your gut’s immune cells. Whole grain bread increases the production of healthy bacteria that your gut needs to ward off germs and illnesses.
Foods That Help With Anxiety, Stress, and Depression
Once you begin active recovery, your brain and body’s memory of drug use is strong. It can lead to unwanted feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression, making it difficult to find joy in everyday pleasures.
Studies have found that maintaining a diet of mainly whole, unprocessed foods can help with symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
We recommend the following science-backed food options
- Spinach, Asparagus, Beans, Avocado, Oranges, and Eggs
These foods are all high in folate. This is important because, according to the National Institutes of Health, low folate status is linked to depression. Moreover, people low in folate have a statistically poor response to antidepressants.Interestingly, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to low folate levels—one more way addiction can lead to poor physical and mental health.
- Berries, Kale, Spinach, Pecans, Dark Chocolate, Red Grapes, Artichokes, and Beets
Berries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any food. Emerging research shows that a diet high in antioxidants can reduce symptoms of depression and boost mood.
- Walnuts, Chia Seeds, and Flax Seeds
Numerous studies have shown how omega-3 fatty acids can reduce depression symptoms, and your brain depends on these acids to function correctly. Wild-caught fish and eggs are also good sources of omega-3s.
- Probiotics (e.g., Kefir, kombucha, miso, raw cheese, fermented vegetables, and some yogurts)
Probiotics are an essential part of gut health. If those foods look mysterious to you, Kefir is a good place to start. It’s available in the dairy section of most grocery stores and makes a great smoothie base. Just throw in a handful of greens, berries, and ice. Add chia and flaxseeds if you want to get fancy (and boost omega-3s).
Junk food comes up short in a lot of areas, but one of the worst things about a diet high in sweets and snacks is the lack of protein. Protein supplies our bodies with the essential amino acids needed to support proper health. It’s also a great source of energy.
- Tryptophan (e.g., turkey, bananas, chicken, milk, oats, cheese, sesame seeds, and peanut butter)
Tryptophan is especially important as it’s the precursor to the feel-good chemical serotonin.
- Complex Carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains)
Complex carbs raise blood sugars more slowly, preventing an insulin rush (which can lead to lower energy levels and moods).
Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, leading to over-eating and poor food choices. Even worse, one study by the University of Connecticut found that mild dehydration can cause mood problems.
- Magnesium (e.g., eggs, spinach, Swiss chard, legumes, nuts, seeds, and avocado)
Emerging research has shown magnesium to be calming.
In addition to this list, it’s important to avoid or limit foods that spike your blood sugar for a short time, as they can negatively impact your energy level and mood. That includes all of the foods that many of us love the most—cookies, chips, candy, cake, pancakes made with white flour, sugary muffins, beer, coffee, and more.
5 New Healthy Meal Delivery Services
We all know how important healthy eating is—especially when you’re in recovery.
But, sometimes, that’s easier said than done. There are only so many hours in the day, and you’re also trying to take time to exercise, go to meetings and rebuild your life.
Luckily, there are more healthy meal delivery services than ever for those who want to eat well but don’t have the time to meal plan and shop.
Whether you want to cook or just reheat, here are five meal services that deliver right to your door
Who wouldn’t want Martha Stewart in their kitchen, especially when she sends you everything you need to make entrees like Hoisin Chicken Cutlets and Mediterranean Grilled Pitzas? Vegetarian and gluten-free options are also available.
Entrees like Low Country Shrimp Boil and Pasta Primavera (made with turnip noodles) make you forget you’re eating healthy. These meals come fully prepared and steer clear of white flour in all its forms, as well as ingredients like vegetable oil and high fructose corn syrup. Many meals contain 20 or fewer grams of carbs.
The Purple Carrot ships you the ingredients you need to make plant-based meals like Portobello Mushroom BLT and Brussel Sprout Caesar Salad. You’ll do the cooking but receive everything you need to prepare a fresh and healthy meal.
Factor takes the stress out of planning nutritional meals, from portion control and prep to clean up. Registered dietitians design all meals to ensure every meal is packed with premium nutrition. They also offer personalized meals for various diets (e.g., keto, vegan, vegetarian, protein plus, and calorie smart).
This service doesn’t offer meals as you may think of them. Instead, they’ll send you all the fixings for ready-to-blend smoothies, including Carrot and Chia, Chocolate and Blueberry, and Pineapple and Matcha. Daily Harvest also offers soup, chia parfaits, overnight oats, and lattes.
Get Your Immune Health Back on Track at The Raleigh House
At The Raleigh House, nutrition plays a major role in our addiction treatment programs in Denver. Healthy foods can have incredible healing powers for the body and mind after substance misuse, so we ensure all our clients follow a pro-recovery diet during treatment and learn how to maintain it once they’re in recovery.