Alcohol - How Food can Reduce Cravings
When Anna and I started eating mostly raw foods I gradually found myself drinking less and less alcohol.
Previously I had been working
as a restaurant chef and I’d have a beer or a wine most evenings after work. Often I had a couple more drinks when I got
home! I wouldn’t say I was addicted (who
does?!) but I did have a well-entrenched habit of regular drinking.
When we started eating more raw food I didn’t have any intention to stop drinking alcohol completely; wine is a actually a raw, fermented product, which I continued to enjoy occasionally. But I found myself becoming less and less interested.
At the time I didn’t make any direct connection to the raw
food I was eating. But recently I read about a study that showed a
diet including 60 – 70% raw foods can eliminate cravings for alcohol.
A 1985 study put 32 people with high blood pressure on a
6-month diet which included 60 – 70% uncooked foods. This diet succeeded in lowering their blood
pressure and balancing blood cholesterol and blood fats. However the researchers also discovered that 80%
of those who regularly drank alcohol abstained without suggestion or
encouragement. A similar percentage of
smokers also quit. Amazing!
Many other studies have shown that alcohol craving is
associated with poor nutrition and over-consumption of refined carbohydrates. Nutritional
support is essential part of any programme for long-term recovery from alcohol
addiction. A great way to get a boost
in nutrients is from a high-raw food diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and
I have a close friend who believes that eating plenty of bean
sprouts helped him give up smoking cigarettes – and he lost interest in alcohol
at the same time!
What is a healthy level of alcohol consumption?
Alcohol is a central feature of leisure time, celebrations,
sporting events and holidays for most New Zealanders. We seem to share an unspoken belief that
there’s more talk, laughter, dancing and relaxation when our gatherings include
“a few drinks”. We may often refer to alcohol
as a “social lubricant”, hardly considering the
From a physical health point of few it’s clear that low to
moderate consumption of alcohol is not necessarily harmful. There has been much publicity (and toasting!)
of recent studies that tell us a glass
or two of red wine a day can actually have long-term beneficial affects. Personally I know I wouldn’t feel as energetic,
alive and happy if I drank alcohol every day – I generally drink a glass of
wine once or twice a week, at the very most.
Sadly, there are many New Zealanders who drink way more than one or two drinks a day. The health affects of this are serious. Excessive alcohol consumption is a significant risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease, some types of cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. Long-term problems include digestive disorders and irreparable damage to the brain, liver, intestines and pancreas.
Other connections between alcohol and food
Poor diets lead to
more alcohol consumption.
Malnourishment can lead to alcohol addiction for a variety of physiological reasons. Alcoholism is a common and unfortunate side-affect of poverty. A predilection for junk food is no doubt a contributing factor to heavy drinking amongst teenagers - rich and poor alike.
Low blood sugar tends to stimulate alcohol cravings, and alcohol consumption contributes to hypoglycemia - a tragic cycle that has disastrous health consequences in the long term. The drop in blood sugar produces a craving for food, particularly food that quickly elevate blood sugar: refined carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol. Hypoglycemia aggravates the mental and emotional problems of alcoholism, with such symptoms as sweating, rapid heart beat, anxiety, hunger, dizziness, headache, visual disturbance, confusion and depression. A whole food diet with most carbohydrate eaten in a complex form (vegetables, whole grains and beans) will even out blood sugar imbalance.
The Coffee Connection
If alcohol had a rival as the number one drug of choice for New Zealanders it would have to be caffeine. While coffee doesn’t cause the direct social harm that alcohol does, the two go hand in hand, fuelling a cycle of nutritional depletion. Caffeine is a stressor on the body, upsetting blood sugar balance, promoting mineral loss and causing dehydration. Several studies have shown that regular coffee drinking tends to lead to increased alcohol consumption.
When I start to talk about the health problems associated
with coffee many people give me a shocked and saddened looks – like children
who’ve had their toys taken. away. This
just tells me how strong their addiction is!
There are many good reasons to avoid coffee – the alcohol connection is
If we do drink alcohol - how can we protect the body from
Alcohol consumption relates closely to nutrition and other
lifestyle factors. Food choices can
protect the body from alcohol-related damage and reduce the potential of
A well-balanced and nourishing diet, with plenty of raw plant foods, can protect from the potential harm of moderate alcohol consumption. Specific nutrients that protect from long term damage are the B-complex vitamins; Vitamins A, C and E; magnesium, selenium and zinc. These are best obtained from whole foods – fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, seafood and meat.
Many of the toxic effects of alcohol are due to associated
nutritional deficiencies – not the alcohol itself. The body has increased requirements for
vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other micronutrients when metabolising
alcohol and clearing it from the blood. Alcohol
also inhibits the efficient absorption of vitamins and minerals in the small
Consider how B-vitamin booster tablets such as “Berocca” can
offer relief from a hangover. Miso soup,
which has plenty of B-vitamins in a whole food form will also have the same
affect. It’s best however to have your
body well-stocked in nutrients before
having a drink!
A diet balanced for your unique metabolic type is important
for many health reasons. Low
Carbohydrate and Low Protein diets are
potentially damaging in themselves, and will reduce the body’s ability to
efficiently metabolise and excrete alcohol.
Dehydration is one of the major reasons we may feel so terrible after a party! Anybody who’s suffered even a mild hangover knows the dehydrating effect of alcohol. Water is required to detoxify and eliminate alcohol from the body. The more alcohol we drink, the more water we need. Drink extra water before going out, during the party and again in the morning.
I remember learning as a teenager that I if I’d had too much
to drink I could recover much quicker the next day if I forced myself to drink
several large glasses of water before crashing into bed! With the wisdom of age I now recommend
avoiding getting to that sad state by drinking at least one glass of water for
each alcoholic drink.
Regular aerobic exercise will boost the metabolism and help the body clear alcohol and residual waste products more efficiently. Unfortunately heavy drinking is a common element of our sporting culture, for spectators and athletes alike; athletes get away with drinking alcohol, to a certain extent, because of the exercise. Many 30 – 40 year olds who move from the playing field to the armchair (with a can of beer) quickly put on weight.
Chronic long-term alcohol addiction requires professional
help. A good recovery programme will
include nutritional assessment, dietary adjustments and supplementation as required. A high-raw
diet with supplemental magnesium and Evening Primrose Oil can reduce the
severity of alcohol withdrawal.
The Cost of Alcohol for New Zealand
The following statements come from the NZ Ministry of
Alcohol-related hospitalisations are estimated
to cost New Zealand
more than $74 million each year.
· At some time in their life, nearly one in five New Zealanders will suffer an alcohol-use disorder.
· It is estimated that alcohol-related conditions account for 3.1% of all male deaths and 1.41% of all female deaths in New Zealand.
· Alcohol contributes to death and injury on the roads, drowning, suicide, assaults and domestic violence, other non-traffic-related mortality. It also causes disease, mental health disorders and sexual health problems.
· Alcohol-related health problems, as well as directly causing deaths, create considerable distress and disability. This results in a significant and costly pressure on health services.