Okay, so you see that title and it’s easy to think that, if you want to maintain a healthy recovery, a big, thick, juicy cheeseburger or gooey piece of chocolate cake should never pass your lips ever again. It’s not quite that bad! But to make feeling your best easier, it helps to follow a more holistic approach to recovery and know what foods to avoid most of the time.
Foods to Avoid in Recovery: Processed and Ultra Processed
Unless someone follows a vegan or raw food eating plan, most of the whole foods we eat require some form of processing—meat, for example, or olive oil. But as the American Society for Nutrition notes, “evidence is developing to suggest that ultra-processed food consumption is associated with multiple negative health effects.”
Governmental agencies and health professionals use the NOVA classification system to categorize different levels of product processing to determine another critical factor of better nutrition. NOVA identifies four food groups, based on the “physical, biological and chemical techniques used after foods are separated from nature, and before they are consumed or else made into dishes and meals.” Here’s the breakdown.
Group 1: unprocessed and minimally processed
This category includes foods like unsalted and unroasted seeds and nuts, whole fruits and leafy vegetables, fresh eggs, raw or pasteurized milk, and so on. Minimally processed might include removing the pit from fresh dates, or freezing raw chicken breasts and thighs shortly after the fowl is dispatched.
Group 2: processed culinary ingredients
These are substances from Group 1 or from nature, usually processed in a variety of ways and used to prepare and season other foods. There might also be additives to prevent spoilage or bacteria. These ingredients include foods like honey or syrup, salt mined or extracted from seawater, olive oil, and butter.
Group 3: processed foods
This category includes food processing methods such as brining, smoking, canning, and salting. Foods might also contain more additives and preservatives for shelf stability. Canned fruit in syrup, dried pasta and jarred sauces, dehydrated potatoes, and pre-cooked meats and packaged cold cuts are examples.
Group 4: ultra-processed foods
We should probably put “foods” in quotes at this point. This category has a multitude of additives, stabilizers, high-fructose corn syrup, and additional sugar, fat, and salt. Items include mass-manufactured breads, cereals, cookies, crackers, chips, soda, fruit drinks, packaged pastries, frozen ice cream treats…the list is endless.
Shelf-Stable Foodstuffs Don’t Help Your Stability
So minimally processed=good and ultra-processed=bad, but why?
Harvard Medical School indicates that ultra-processed foods “had higher risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease.” Harvard’s School of Public Health also notes that “people who eat diets high in ultra-processed foods, such as packaged cereals, frozen meals, and sweets, may have a higher chance of feeling depressed and anxious than those who eat fewer of these foods—and they may also have an increased risk of cognitive decline.”
The Cleveland Clinic reports that ultra-processed foods are manufactured to not only tickle your taste buds, but also stimulate the same areas of your brain as drugs and alcohol, “light up pleasure centers in your brain and trigger the release of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, much like other addictive substances do.” For people managing SUD and AUD, “those chemicals can overpower other signals from the brain that tell them they’re full or satisfied, which can lead to a cycle of overeating.”
Good nutrition supports your sobriety in numerous ways. Here are just a few:
- There’s a relationship between gut microbes and serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates appetite, mood, pain receptors, and sleep. Researchers suggest that a healthy diet fosters “good” bacteria in your gut, which provides a natural, consistent release of serotonin, instead of an artificial prompt by alcohol or drug use.
- Whole foods help regulate blood sugar, which in turn controls mood swings and reduces cravings.
- Unprocessed or minimally processed foods have less added salt, saturated fats, and sugar, which helps reduce depression and anxiety.
Follow a Whole-Foods Eating Plan
It’s easier to avoid certain foods when you’re in recovery than you might think. Author, journalist, and professor Michael Pollan, famous for numerous books including In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said it best: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
- A whole apple is better than a glass of canned apple juice, and certainly healthier than store-bought apple pie.
- Fresh sweet corn off the cob is preferred over canned corn, and definitely more nutritious than corn chips.
- Preparing a meal of roasted chicken with fresh steamed broccoli and red bell pepper is much better for you than a packaged frozen meal featuring the same ingredients that’s overloaded with sodium and has a “sell by” date of three months from now—or a fast-food chicken sandwich.
A side note: some frozen foods—such as fruits, vegetables, and raw meat and seafood, for example—are usually packaged shortly after harvest and considered minimally processed.
Many people turn to ultra-processed foods or fast food due to time or even budget constraints. These are legitimate concerns. Working with a nutritionist is one way to learn how to choose the healthiest foods and prepare meals that fit your necessary guidelines.
Get the Quality Care You Deserve at Willingway
Willingway’s inpatient addiction rehabilitation facility in Statesboro, GA, is a home-like atmosphere focused on whole-person wellness. Nutrition is a vital part of that: our staff prepares three health-focused meals daily for clients to enjoy. You or a loved one can also take advantage of our expansive and secluded wooded campus, enjoy a fitness center that includes a pool and gym equipment, and find peace in a private room for quality rest and reflection. If this sounds like the perfect environment to dedicate yourself to renewed health, call us today to learn more about how we can help.