Addiction Recovery: How Healthy Fats Help
The topic of dietary fat often brings forth different opinions, with both negative and positive connotations. As one of the six essential nutrients found in food, fats also known as fatty acids or lipids play a vital role as a source of energy for our body. Despite the importance of this nutrient in our diet, fats have been given a bad rap in recent history, with beliefs that limiting and even avoiding fats is best practice. What is often minimized in this discussion are the different types of fats, including beneficial fats which are essential for normal functioning of our body and disease prevention.
Active addiction has many consequences in overall health, and one area that is often impacted is diet and nutrition. In recovery from alcohol, drug, sex and food addiction, balance and moderation is an important component of refueling, healing and restoring good health. Fats are an imperative part of maintaining these tasks, and ultimately improving both physical and mental health concerns.
Saturated and Unsaturated fats
Saturated fats are unhealthy fats found in animal based foods such as meat, poultry, cheese and dairy products. Trans fats are another group of unhealthy fats that are made during partial hydrogenation, or when liquid oil is turned into a solid fat. Foods include margarine, baked goods and fried foods.
Both saturated and trans fats offer minimal health benefits, and when consumed in large amounts have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Saturated fats have been shown to increase LDL (low density lipoproteins), which is known as the ‘bad cholesterol’. It increases plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries and causes blockages and increased risk for developing heart disease, and specifically for a heart attack. Trans fats also increase LDL levels, and in addition it decreases the ‘good’ cholesterol called HDL (high density lipoproteins) which helps to take the cholesterol out of the blood vessels, reducing plaque buildup on the blood vessel walls and improving heart health.
Unsaturated fats are healthy fats that can be broken down into monounsaturated (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) which include omega 3 and omega 6. Monounsaturated fats include nuts, canola, olive, sunflower and safflower oil and avocados. Omega 3 PUFA includes fatty fishes such as trout, herring, salmon, sardines, flaxseed, walnuts and soybeans. Omega 6 PUFA includes vegetable oil, corn oil and walnuts. Choosing unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats help to reduce LDL levels, and increase HDL levels which is best for normal cardiovascular function.
Fats are an important source of energy, and depending on the foods chosen, they can help or harm ones’ overall health. However it is important to remember that too much of any fat can have negative impacts on overall health. Health Canada recommends that 20-30% of our total daily caloric intake come from fat. While remaining mindful that choosing unsaturated fat sources, limiting saturated fat intake, and less than 2% of fat intake from trans-fat provides optimal health and meeting dietary recommendations.
Health Benefits in Addiction Recovery
Due to low appetite, irregular eating patterns and poor food choices, healthy fats may not bet consumed in sufficient amounts, which affects the health of those in active addiction. Choosing the right fats in addiction recovery can have significant benefits on both mental and physical health.
Studies show that low levels of omega 3’s have been linked with depression. As omega 3 rich foods may not be consumed during the addiction, this nutrient deficit could contribute to symptoms of depression. Another study shows that low levels of EPA (a type of omega 3) have been linked with ‘impulsive behaviour, hostility and cynical ideas’ (Barclay, 2007). Mood swings or fluctuations, as well as depression can be a significant trigger to use an addictive substance or behaviour. Correcting this deficit by incorporating omega 3 rich foods such as fatty fish for example is important in potentially reducing these symptoms and obstacles in recovery. Healthy fats are also important as they aid in the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Some of the other functions of fats include providing texture and mouth feel to foods, as well as promoting satiety which helps us feel full for longer periods.
These examples all have an impact on addiction recovery. Practicing good nutrition by following a meal plan of three meals and three snacks a day is key. A meal plan including a good source of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats is an important part of supporting sober living, by improving heart health, cognition, mood and brain function. Each of these macronutrients play a role in addiction recovery, and despite the negative views on fats, it too has an important role by protecting and healing our mind and body.
- Barclay, L. (2007). Fighting Depression and Improving Cognition with Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved 2 July, 2015, from https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2007/10/report_depression/Page-01