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Harnessing the Power of Food: How Nutrition Can Heal and Nourish

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Last Updated on March 20, 2024 by Diane Ridaeus

The Power of Nutrition for Mental Wellness

Food is one of the most basic needs we humans have. But, while it can be easy to think of food as simply daily sustenance or a tasty treat, food has more of an effect on other parts of our lives than we may think. In fact, the holistic medicinal process emphasizes the importance and power of the simple idea that food is medicine.

At its core, that means that putting the right food and nutrients into our bodies can help our daily health and recovery after symptoms of mental decline,or even toxin exposure. Knowing what kind of food to eat is vital to increasing your health and feeling better overall. Holistic nutritionists recommend a varied, balanced diet filled with everything from organic foods to lean protein, so we’ve prepared a guide of some of the best foods to eat to improve your overall health and help you & your body power through recovery.

Celebrate your Best Life with great food!

power of food
Orthomolecular medicine is a fundamental of program design at Alternative to Meds, and we think it’s one of the main reasons our clients can finally experience successful outcomes. Our clients’ success can be seen in an independent report documenting many years of helping individuals reach their mental health goals, without relying on toxic prescription drugs. Read on to get a wider view of how nutrition and mental health are truly symbiotic for safe and natural improvements to both physical and mental well-being.

The Basics of Healing Through Nutrition

Whether you’ve experienced unwanted mental health symptoms, SUD, or just want to improve your overall health, the foods you eat can either improve your condition or make matters worse. More specifically, choosing the right foods can leave you healthier, more robust, and better able to take on future roadblocks, while eating processed or unhealthy foods may have the opposite effect.

Protein Is Crucial

Whether you’re recovering from compromised mental health,or in recovery from an SUD, your body is looking for protein. Proteins help the body rebuild and rejuvenate at the cellular level to bring you back to full strength. Collagen is the most prevalent protein in our body and is the main building block for your skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues, including those needed for efficient brain function. High-protein foods can aid in collagen production, which will assist in repairing or healing cell and tissue damage at the most basic levels.1

During recovery, your body needs even more protein than we do when healthy and free of any ailments. The American Society for Enhanced Recovery conducted a study on the importance of protein in the diet. The recommendation was to increase the daily allotment of protein from 0.36 grams per pound of body weight to 0.7-0.9 grams per pound – more than double the typical amount.2

Vitamins and Minerals Are Key

You’ll also want to ensure you consume a good spread of vitamins and minerals while in recovery. This will mean eating a variety of fruits and vegetables to hit many of the most important nutrients. Don’t worry too much about calories while recovering so long as they’re associated with healthy, whole foods – the body uses them as energy to restore balance and return to normal, healthy function.

Hydrate Yourself

Aside from food, you’ll want to get ample hydration while you recover. Researchers highlight the importance of drinking water while in recovery. 3 Try to drink plenty of water while eating and throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Teas, preferably without caffeine, are also a worthwhile addition to your diet to help with recovery. In fact, studies have linked a number of herbal teas with physical and mental health benefits. Try herbal teas such as kava, galphimia glauca, and passionflower for anxiety, teas with St. John’s wort, turmeric, or saffron for depression, and ashwagandha and ginkgo biloba for affective disorders. Green teas can also have numerous health benefits, like antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-pathogenic, and immune-boosting capabilities, as well as modulation of detoxifying enzymes.415

A Guide to Good Health & Nutrition

Health & Nutrition Guide

It can seem like there is a constant back and forth regarding which foods are best for recovery and what benefits they bring. Our specialized nutrition team has put together a list of some of the most important foods to incorporate during recovery, along with the health benefits each brings.


Perhaps no food has endured as much scrutiny from the press as the egg. Anyone old enough may remember seeing ads touting the egg’s health benefits and a few years later seeing news reports about the dangers of eggs. We’ll put it simply – the body needs protein that can easily be harnessed in eggs, and they can be prepared in a variety of delicious, healthy ways.

Eggs are an excellent source of protein, providing around six grams of protein per egg. You will also find several vitamins and minerals in eggs, including vitamins A and B12, as well as zinc.5

Incorporating eggs into your diet is easy. Your mind may immediately jump to a fried egg for breakfast, but you can boil or poach them as a lower-calorie version to serve in the morning. Hard boiled eggs are also an excellent addition to a salad to add some more protein to the dish.

Salmon and Other Fish

Salmon and other fish can be a healthy source of protein. Salmon, in particular, has numerous health benefits, according to studies by nutritionists, boasting selenium, iron, zinc, and vitamins. Salmon is also high in omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help give salmon its reputation as one of the best fish to eat in recovery.6

For example, the selenium in salmon can help with controlling inflammation and improving our immune system, according to studies on the mineral’s benefits for humans.7 Meanwhile, omega-3 fatty acids may help combat symptoms of depression and suicidality, and one study found that omega-3s may be most effective when they are not used alongside prescription medication. 8

Leafy Green Vegetables

Your parents probably told you to eat your vegetables, and their advice was well worth heeding. Leafy green vegetables such as kale, chard, arugula, and spinach have numerous health benefits for those in recovery. While each of these greens is slightly different and their mineral profile varies, in general, these vegetables contain vitamin C, magnesium, antioxidants, provitamin A, and manganese.

Polyphenol antioxidants help the body deal with inflammation and boost the immune system.9 The vitamin C in leafy green vegetables also has healing properties and can help the body recover from exposure to toxins.19

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Berries don’t just taste good; they also provide us with several useful nutrients. Common berries include strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, all of which can help boost collagen production and harbor the vitamin C the body needs during recovery. In addition to vitamin C, berries also contain antioxidants, which have been previously highlighted as helping with inflammation.

You can enjoy berries as a snack, but be wary about eating too many. While they have health benefits, berries do contain plenty of sugar, so you should enjoy them in moderation with other fruits and vegetables.

Chicken and Turkey

Poultry, preferably organic, is a lean source of protein with numerous health benefits for the body. You’ll want extra protein while in recovery, and eating chicken or turkey with your lunch or dinner can provide the protein you need. Poultry also contains two crucial amino acids for recovery, glutamine and arginine, which have been linked with health benefits for recovery. Glutamine protects cells and increases collagen production. The body uses arginine to help heal, so replacing it will keep you supplied with the nutrients you need to restore healthy cellular regeneration, and transport function.11

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include some staples in American kitchens, like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. You can easily incorporate some of these vegetables into your diet as side dishes for dinner or meat substitutes.

Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which studies have linked with promoting a healthier immune system, a reduction in inflammation, and even reduced symptoms of depression. 1 You will also find ample amounts of vitamin C in cruciferous vegetables, as well as iron.

Sweet Potatoes

The body may burn more carbohydrates than it may be used to during the recovery period, and getting healthy carbs will be more important than ever. It’s important to avoid processed carbs like white bread or sugars as much as possible and opt for more efficient ways to get your daily recommended amount of carbs. That’s where sweet potatoes come in.

Studies have linked complex carbs in vegetables and fruits with healing, as well as the enzymes in sweet potatoes like hexokinase. 13 Bolstering your carb intake with healthier carbs like sweet potatoes can provide the carbs and other essential nutrients you need. For example, in addition to healthy carbs, sweet potatoes also offer essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, and manganese.

Nuts and Seeds

Scientists have long touted the health benefits of nuts in the diet, and for good reason. Nuts are a healthy way to get several nutrients, including protein, zinc, vitamin E, magnesium, healthy fats, and antioxidants. Vitamin E, in particular, may be extremely important in recovery. Nutritionists have begun to notice a connection between vitamin E and the proliferation of essential immune system cells. 14

Healthy nuts we recommend include sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, pecans, and almonds. While each nut may have slightly different nutritional properties, they all give roughly the same health benefits. You can add nuts and seeds to your diet as a healthy snack option, or you can add them to your regular meals. Nuts make a great addition to salads, baked goods, and stir-fries.

How Do I Incorporate These Foods Into My Diet?

If you want to harness the healing power of plant-based foods and other high-value options for recovery, you need to know the best way to incorporate them into your diet. To add to the importance of this education, people in active SUD or in a troubled mental health condition, often fail to eat a properly balanced diet. Until you learn how to incorporate a variety of food groups into your diet, you may have trouble ensuring your recovering body is truly getting what it needs.

Here are some simple tips for harnessing the power of nutritious foods while you’re in recovery:

Add to Your Favorites

One of the easiest ways to add more nutrients to your meals is to combine ingredients with your existing meals. For instance, if you have a fruit smoothie every morning, you can easily add a few new elements to increase the nutrients and avoid altering the flavor. Adding a cup of spinach won’t change the taste of your smoothie too much, but it will add multiple health benefits. Or you can use Greek yogurt for a boost in protein.

The most important thing is to be creative with your meals. It’s often easier to incorporate three different foods into a singular dish than to try and make three separate dishes for dinner.

Eat More Meal Salads

Salads may sound obvious, but they do provide you with many options for customization and packing in as many nutrients as you can. Use several types of leafy greens in your salad for the widest array of nutrients. You can also add things like berries, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or chicken to cover more food groups with a single meal.

Make Veggies the Main Event

Instead of using vegetables as a side dish for dinner, consider incorporating them into a meal. You could make a vegetarian chili with numerous vegetables and beans for a mix of protein and minerals. Or, try an array of veggies and hummus for a light but filling meal.

Power Up Your Snacks

Snacks are a great way to incorporate more healthy choices into the diet and promote holistic healing, but it’s important to be choosy. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or a leftover piece of pizza, consider snacking on healthier options packed with nutrients. You could enjoy some nuts, dried fruits, berries, or even sliced avocado for a boost of energy and health during the day.

Alternative to Meds Center: Your Guide to Living a More Holistic Life

Living a more holistic life

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet will give you a needed boost while your mind and body are recovering from SUD. The body uses food as fuel to recover, and it is essential to provide it the right power to bounce back from the damage caused by overuse of medications, or extensive substance use, as well. Like a car, if you don’t put the right fuel into your body, it won’t continue to carry you to your next destination – a healthier, happier life.

At Alternative to Meds Center, we believe in taking a holistic approach to treating mental health symptoms, and substance use disorder, including a focus on the food you are using to fuel your recovery. That’s why providing nutrient-packed meals and carefully chosen supplements is such an important part of our inpatient recovery program.

Contact us today to learn more about our program or to request help.


1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2021). Collagen | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved January 24, 2024, from

2. Wischmeyer, P. E., Carli, F., Evans, D. C., Guilbert, S., Kozar, R., Pryor, A., … & Perioperative Quality Initiative. (2018). American society for enhanced recovery and perioperative quality initiative joint consensus statement on nutrition screening and therapy within a surgical enhanced recovery pathway. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 126(6), 1883-1895.

3. Savoie-Roskos, M. R., Yaugher, A., Condie, A. W., Murza, G., Voss, M. W., & Atismé, K. (2020). Diet, nutrition, and substance use disorder. Retrieved January 24, 2024, from

4. Serafini M, Del Rio D, Yao DN, et al. Health Benefits of Tea. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 12. Available from:

5. US Department of Agriculture. (2019). FoodData Central Search Results. FoodData Central. Retrieved January 24, 2024, from

6. Chen, J., Jayachandran, M., Bai, W., & Xu, B. (2022). A critical review on the health benefits of fish consumption and its bioactive constituents. Food chemistry, 369, 130874.

7. Huang, Z., Rose, A. H., & Hoffmann, P. R. (2012). The role of selenium in inflammation and immunity: from molecular mechanisms to therapeutic opportunities. Antioxidants & redox signaling, 16(7), 705–743.

8. Mischoulon, D. (2020, October 27). Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Harvard Health. Retrieved January 24, 2024, from

9. Davison, G., Kehaya, C., & Wyn Jones, A. (2014). Nutritional and Physical Activity Interventions to Improve Immunity. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(3), 152–169.

10. Mohammed, B. M., Fisher, B. J., Kraskauskas, D., Ward, S., Wayne, J. S., Brophy, D. F., Fowler, A. A., 3rd, Yager, D. R., & Natarajan, R. (2016). Vitamin C promotes wound healing through novel pleiotropic mechanisms. International wound journal, 13(4), 572–584. <

11. Meletis, C. D., & Barker, J. E. (2005). Therapeutic uses of amino acids. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 11(1), 24-28.

12. LaChance, L. R., & Ramsey, D. (2018). Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World journal of psychiatry, 8(3), 97–104.

13. Demling R. H. (2009). Nutrition, anabolism, and the wound healing process: an overview. Eplasty, 9, e9. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from

14. Lewis, E. D., Meydani, S. N., & Wu, D. (2019). Regulatory role of vitamin E in the immune system and inflammation. IUBMB life, 71(4), 487–494.

15. Sarris J. (2018). Herbal medicines in the treatment of psychiatric disorders: 10-year updated review. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 32(7), 1147–1162.

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Harnessing the Power of Food: How Nutrition Can Heal and Nourish
Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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