NYCFL Nutrition Guide

At the Center for Living, nutritional health is viewed as one of the major factors necessary for successful recovery from substance use disorders. As such, one of our goals is to make sure that our clients and their families are well educated about the latest findings pertaining to nutrition and recovery. We feel it is important that everyone associated with the Center for Living learn how to make proper nutritional choices in the setting of recovery, and that they have at least a basic understanding of the scientific underpinnings that inform our thinking.

Studies indicate that unhealthy dietary habits can have a powerfully negative influence on the course of one’s recovery. Today, one of the most prevalent nutritional problems among teenagers is the over consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, a behavior that is believed to be a major contributor to relapse with drugs and alcohol, as well as childhood obesity and diabetes. Findings also show that the illness of addiction has a clear negative impact upon a number of nutritional processes such as metabolism, food cravings and weight-management issues.

This handbook provides nutritional guidelines for clients and their families as they navigate the challenges of recovery. It outlines areas where adolescents in recovery are nutritionally deficient, and provides information that will enable everyone to understand how to implement changes that are in line with the nutritional policies of the Center for Living. The material herein was derived in part from the work of Jeffery Fortuna, Dr.P.H., a leading expert in the field of nutrition, particularly in adolescents and those in recovery.

Nutritional Guidelines

  1. Choose healthy carbohydrates;
  2. Increase fruit and vegetable intake;
  3. Increase high-quality protein, and eat protein earlier in the day;
  4. Achieve the “tryptophan effect” at night;
  5. Choose the right vitamins and supplements that make sense for those in recovery from substance use disorders.
  6. Purchase and ingest high-quality food that is wholesome and organic (when possible).

Guideline # 1:

Examples of unhealthy carbohydrates

  • Whole grains, including bulgur, quinoa and oats. Look for the word “WHOLE GRAIN” on the label (e.g. whole wheat bread, whole oats, whole barley).
  • Fruits Vegetables Legumes Nuts Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Choose healthy carbohydrates: Think whole grains!

Our brains run on glucose (sugar) and require it to function properly.

We should get glucose from healthy carbohydrates instead of refined (white) sugars, which cause insulin surges and wild swings in blood sugar levels. This leads to irritability and is a major cause of relapse for those in recovery!

  • High-fructose corn syrup Refined white cane sugar Bleached flour/starches

Examples of serving sizes for whole grains

  • 1 oz. of dry cereal
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread
  • ½ cup of whole wheat pasta
  • ½ cup of cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup of cooked oatmeal
  • ½ cup of cooked barley

Guideline # 2:

  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake.
    • Everybody knows that fruits and vegetables are healthy; unfortunately, most adolescents do not consume adequate amounts.
  • Fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of dietary fiber, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
    • They are also loaded with phytochemicals, which are nutrients and substances that have many roles, including the inhibition of certain cancers. When eating fruits and vegetables, it is healthy to consume a variety of colors. Choosing produce free of pesticides and other adulterants is essential. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Identify your favorite fruits and vegetables
    • Have a taste testing of a variety of fruits and vegetables; adolescents and parents should note their favorites.
  • Parents should purchase the favorites so they are readily available in the home.
    • Research shows that when fruits and vegetables are more accessible in the home, children and adolescents eat more!

Fruit water:

Fill a container with water and sliced fruit or berries, such as lemon or raspberries. Kids think it is cool, it looks and tastes great and it is a healthy alternative to sodas and other highly-sugared drinks.


A fun way to increase fruit and vegetable intake is by making your own juice. Juicers come in many varieties; find one that does not discard the skin of the fruit, that way it retains critical nutrients.

Guideline # 3:

Increase high-quality protein, and eat protein earlier in the day.

Getting enough protein is an essential component of a healthy diet. For those in recovery, it is important to eat high-quality protein in order to get the maximum benefit. For example, certain protein-rich foods contain tyrosine, an amino acid. Consumption of tyrosine-containing foods leads to an increase in the amount of dopamine the brain manufactures.

Drugs of abuse heavily target dopamine which is the main neurotransmitter responsible for focus and attention. Often, those in recovery have “sick” dopamine production and transmission. Also, it is logical to consume more protein-rich, tyrosine-containing food earlier in the day when focus and attention is required (e.g., before going to school) rather than later in the evening when relaxation is desired.

Examples of healthy, protein-rich lunches

  • Baked or broiled chicken breast, romaine salad Whole wheat wrap, filled with solid white albacore tuna, hard- boiled egg whites, papaya salsa
  • Baked tofu with sesame seed gravy, tomato and cucumber salad
  • Tyrosine is abundant in the following foods
  • Chicken breast Salmon Halibut
  • Tuna (solid white, canned) Cottage cheese
  • Eggs Milk Tofu
  • Beef tenderloin
  • Ground beef (extra lean)
  • Examples of healthy, protein-rich breakfasts
  • Vegetable and cheese omelet, whole wheat toast, fresh fruit, nonfat milk.
  • Cottage cheese blintzes, fruit topping, nonfat milk.
  • Baked salmon with barley.

Guideline #4:

In addition to dopamine , another neurotransmitter, serotonin, is frequently compromised in those suffering from substance use disorders. Serotonin regulates sleep, mood, hunger and satiety, processes that tend to be adversely affected in those in recovery. Serotonin is derived from the amino acid tryptophan, which we must get from food since our bodies are unable to manufacture it. Tryptophan is not common in the diet, so it is important to know what foods contain it (mainly soy and turkey).

Also, in order to allow tryptophan to travel from food to brain, it is important to ingest tryptophan along with healthy carbohydrates and low amounts of protein.

Examples of healthy carbohydrate-rich dinners that can be eaten with tryptophan-rich food

  • Whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce, steamed broccoli and carrots, salad.
  • Oatmeal-cinnamon pancakes, fresh fruit topping Steamed vegetables on a bed of brown rice, salad.

Guideline # 5:

Choose the right vitamins and supplements to assist in recovery.

A number of nutritional supplements are safe and healthy and should be part of a recovering adolescent’s diet.

The major supplements include:


Pharmaceutical grade fish oil containing the appropriate amount of omega-3 fatty acids Alpha Lipoic acid (an antioxidant)

These supplements make particular sense for those in recovery, since they can repair tissue damage caused by substance abuse. In addition, they will replenish vitamins and minerals lost to the poor nutritional habits of adolescents in recovery.


An over-the-counter multivitamin taken daily should provide adequate supplementation for adolescents, especially if they are making good nutritional choices. Recent medical findings indicate that large portions of the population are not getting enough vitamin D, so vitamin D supplementation should be at least 500-1000mg daily.

Fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids:

Scientific data abounds supporting the benefits of fish oil for cardiovascular and mental health. The fish oil must be from deep-sea fish caught in pristine waters and should be “molecularly distilled,” which removes impurities. The product should contain only omega-3 (good) fatty acids, not omega-6 (bad) fatty acids.

In short, omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, a few vegetables and some nuts, has anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties (heart healthy), as well as anti-depressive and mood-stabilizing properties (brain healthy).

Omega-6 fatty acids, prevalent in the modern processed diet, promote inflammation and clot formation and have been implicated in risk for stroke.

To increase omega-3 fatty acid intake:

  • Eat wild-caught fish, as much as possible; Take a high-quality brand of pharmaceutical grade fish oil;
  • Use heart-healthy cooking oils, such as flaxseed, canola and olive;
  • Eat walnuts, which contain the most omega-3 of any nut.
  • Fish oil should not be taken by anyone who suffers from hemophilia, thallasemia or any other blot-clotting/bleeding disorder.

Alpha-lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that allows the brain to utilize vitamins C and E (which are also antioxidants). Antioxidants protect sensitive brain tissues from environmental and chemical stress and should be taken by anyone who suffers from a substance use disorder or is in recovery.

Guideline #6:

  • Purchase and ingest high-quality food that is wholesome and organic (when possible).
  • Consistent with our efforts to maintain the highest standards of nutritional quality at the Center For Living, we recommend the following in addition to the already mentioned nutritional guidelines:
  • Buy beef, chicken, pork, dairy and eggs that come from animals raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics;
  • Steer clear of artificial colorants (i.e. FD&C Red 40).
  • Avoid foods containing high-fructose corn syrup;
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners;
  • Avoid fruits and vegetables grown with pesticides, which a recent Harvard study linked to ADHD in children.
  • Drink water. You will save both money and calories!