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7 Best Foods for Reducing Alcohol Cravings

For individuals in recovery, managing cravings can be a daily struggle, but certain foods can help. The key, addiction experts say, is to choose foods that do one of three things well: improve digestion, promote steady blood sugar throughout the day or support brain chemistry.

There are good reasons these factors help manage sobriety. Healthy digestion optimizes the absorption of amino acids, vitamins and minerals that reduce cravings. Having steady blood sugar all day normalizes insulin and leptin, hormones responsible for regulating hunger. And getting enough lean protein ensures optimal levels of neurotransmitters associated with reward and feelings of well-being.

To find out which foods are among the best for killing cravings, we sought out three national nutrition and recovery experts. David Wiss, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian and founder of Los Angeles-based Nutrition in Recovery, as well as a national speaker on diet and recovery. Michael Desjardins is a clinical supervisor and psychiatric APRN for Journey Healing Centers in Salt Lake City, Utah, and national speaker on neuroscience and recovery. Crystal Van Meter, MS, RDN, is an expert in nutrition and recovery and a sports and performance dietitian for MPOWER Performance Institute in Franklin, Tennessee.

Our Experts’ Favorites

Collectively they had many favorites, but they stressed that no one food will cure cravings. Rather, in order to work, craving-busting foods must be part of a balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fat and fiber. Here are seven of their favorite craving busters:

  1. 100% whole-grain bread. Because alcohol is converted to sugar in the body, when you stop drinking, your body still craves the sugar. The solution? The complex carbohydrates in whole-grain bread metabolize slowly and kill sugar cravings for longer. Whole grains also provide a lot of nutritional bang for your buck, as they contain protein, unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. Look for whole-grain bread with no added sugar.Honorable mentions:  brown rice, quinoa, oats, faro, barley
  2. Raw spinach. Spinach and honorable mention parsley provide vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they help regulate metabolism. They also contain L-glutamine, an amino acid that decreases anxiety and reduces cravings. However, it’s important to note that spinach and parsley should be eaten raw, as L-glutamine breaks down during the cooking process.Honorable mention: raw parsley
  3. Peanut butter. Peanut butter and honorable mention Brazil nuts are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin B and protein, which contains amino acids that are essential for the production of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter associated with mood and the feeling of well-being. Other excellent sources of protein include beans, tofu and dairy products.Honorable mention: Brazil nuts
  4. Salmon. Salmon and honorable mentions tuna and mackerel are loaded with protein and vitamin D, which has been shown to decrease depression and stabilize mood. Coldwater fish such as salmon and mackerel are also full of healthy polyunsaturated fats and are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease depression, regulate mood and improve cognitive function — all of which could work to reduce cravings.Honorable mentions: tuna, Atlantic mackerel
  5. Plain organic yogurt. Yogurt not only has probiotics that promote gut health, it also contains calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are also well-absorbed from honorable mentions cow, soy and almond milk. Other sources of vitamin D include cheese, fruit, legumes and dark leafy greens.Honorable mentions: cow, soy, almond milk
  6. Bananas. Heavy alcohol consumption causes short-term euphoria, but over time it reduces levels of the mood-boosting brain chemical dopamine. Reduction in dopamine can cause cravings. Bananas and honorable mention sunflower seeds raise dopamine levels naturally. In addition, the B vitamins in bananas increase serotonin levels, another neurotransmitter that reduces depression and anxiety.Honorable mention: sunflower seeds
  7. Walnuts. Walnuts, especially English walnuts, are loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Many seeds are also excellent sources of fiber and antioxidants.Honorable mentions: flax seeds and chia seeds

Mindful Eating and Other Hints

Besides focusing on individual foods, you can adopt eating strategies that reduce cravings. An example is “mindful eating,” which simply means slowing down and eating regularly.

“Meals should be within four to five hours, and snacks can be fit in between,” said Van Meter, “so you should be eating every two to three hours.” Any type of extreme — such as skipping meals, cutting food groups or eating rapidly — can result in low blood glucose levels, which mimic alcohol cravings.

For the best all-around snack to reduce cravings, Wiss recommends a few ounces of frozen fruit, a couple of Brazil nuts, a few squares of dark chocolate, and a few ounces of coconut water. “That gives you the natural sugar, the fat, the ‘crunch’ and the ‘smooth,’ and some electrolytes, which will work together to reduce your cravings,” he said.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates a variety of healthy foods that reduce cravings, Desjardins said. That combined with regular exercise will protect your health and might reduce the urge to drink, he said. In fact, research shows that getting plenty of exercise increases levels of the hormone leptin — an appetite suppressor — and reduces levels of ghrelin — which creates the sensation of hunger. So after doing everything right in your diet, “if you still can’t shake the cravings, go for a walk or jog,” he said.

By Janet Cromley

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