Alcoholism and Nutrition

Alcoholism is a complex problem that affects nearly 17.6 million adults in the United States. Heavy alcohol use has adverse affects on nutrition both because it displaces other, more nutritious foods in the diet and because chronic use impairs absorption and metabolism of many nutrients. Over many years of drinking, alcoholics develop poor eating habits and poor nutrition. Alcohol adds calories to the diet that provide no protein or essential vitamins or minerals. Some alcoholics ingest as much as 50 percent of their total daily calories from alcohol, often neglecting important foods. As a result, alcoholics encounter nutritional problems at various stages of alcoholism.

Chronic alcohol abuse is associated with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, hypertension, pancreatitis, and liver disease. It also increases the risk of stroke and cancer of the oral cavity and esophagus as well as the liver, breast and pancreas. Health concerns of alcoholics are malnutrition, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea related to medication use. Obesity is often a concern due to excessive intake of energy that sometimes occurs due to depression.

Alcoholics may be influenced favorably through appropriate dietary instruction. Such instruction may be essential at the time of alcohol withdrawal, or during the treatment of diseases associated with alcoholism. Goals of treating the nutritional needs of alcoholics vary depending on other health problems associated with the disease, but overall, goals should include:

  • Eliminating alcohol
  • Consuming well-balanced meals and snacks, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources to meet nutritional needs

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, menus must include 16 oz of milk and milk products, 6 oz meat, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (with a good source of vitamin A at least 3 times per week and at least 1 good source of vitamin C or 2 fair sources of vitamin C daily) and 6 servings of bread, cereal, rice or pasta daily. Whole grains (wheat bread, oatmeal, etc), in place of refined grains (white bread, white rice, etc) can be incorporated into the menu as they are naturally low in fat and a better source of fiber. Some healthy snack ideas that can be successfully used in long term care facilities include:

  • Whole grains. Whole-grain snacks are rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates, which give you energy with staying power. Look for items such as low-fat whole-grain crackers, whole-grain pretzels and whole-grain crispbreads.
  • Fruits and vegetables. Eating fruits and vegetables provides a feeling of fullness with no fat and only a small number of calories. They also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.
  • Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds provide protein, so you will feel fuller longer. They can be high in fat, but it’s mostly monounsaturated, a healthy kind of fat. Nuts and seeds are high in calories, however, so don’t eat them in large quantities.
  • Low-fat dairy products. Cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium and protein, plus many other vitamins and minerals. Dairy products can be high in fat, so choose the low-fat versions. Some yogurts have extra added sugar, so look for low-calorie or “light” varieties.

Caffeine can become a substitute substance for a recovering alcoholic. Below are healthy alternatives for caffeinated beverages such as soda and coffee that can be used to promote hydration:

  • Flavored Water
  • 100% Juice Drinks
  • Seltzer/Sparkling Water
  • Unsweetened Tea (decaffeinated)
  • Low-Fat Milk
  • Fruit Smoothies>
  • Tomato Juice/V-8