What to Eat When You Can’t Quit: Foods for Smokers

Smoking poisons all the organs in your body and dramatically increases the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and dozens of other disorders. And yet, not everybody is able to quit. Are there foods that can cleanse the body and reduce the risks?

According to statistics, over 70% of smokers want to quit, and 40% make at least one attempt a year; however, unless they participate in a special quitting aid program, up to 95% fails – apparently it takes on average 30 attempts to stop smoking for good (or for a long period of time). And though many succeed in stopping for a few months, it doesn’t mean that their body quickly reverts to normal – in fact, nicotine can stay in your system for much longer than you think.

Given the risks and the unpleasant side effects (such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, frequent infections, bad complexion, etc.), it would be wise for smokers who cannot quit to at least work on their diet in order to reduce the damage done to their system. Here are a few ingredients that can help – and the foods in which you can find them:

Isothiocyanates – found in cruciferous vegetables: some innovative research shows that these compounds can significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer, have an antiinflammatory effect, and act as powerful antioxidants. You can get them from cabbage, kale, watercress, broccoli, brussels sprouts, arugula, bok choy, etc. Smokers are advised to eat them every day; some, like arugula and watercress, can be easily grown on your windowsill, so don’t miss the opportunity.

Antioxidant vitaminsfound in fruit & vegetables. A smoker’s body has a reduced ability to absorb nutrients, and over 50% of smokers suffer from vitamin deficiency. At the same time, smoking spreads free radicals – compounds that can change the DNA and lead to premature ageing. Smokers should make sure to get more vitamins A, C, and E than healthy people. Make sure to eat carrots, spinach, bell peppers, oranges, squash, nuts, and seeds, and – once again – cruciferous vegetables. As for vitamin E, there is no better source than wheat germs and its oil. However, keep in mind that overly high doses of antioxidants may actually increase the risk of cancer.

Vitamin B12 – research shows that levels of vitamin B12 are often depleted in smokers. You can get it naturally from meat, eggs, fish, and dairy (or fortified cereals, if you are a vegan). Be careful with supplements, though: taking high doses of B12 and B6 can raise the risk of lung cancer!

Zinc – found mostly in meat and dairy: tobacco contains cadmium, which is antagonistic to zinc. A lack of zinc can lead to immune system problems and even impotence, so don’t disregard this mineral! Apart from animal products, you can find zinc in legumes, beans, seeds, and seafood.

Catechin – found in tea: this less-known chemical, present in both green and black tea, can repair the blood vessels damaged by smoking, thus reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Selenium – found in fish, nuts, and meat: this mineral is required only in small quantities, and yet it plays an essential role fighting free radicals and regulating metabolism. Selenium deficiency is very common among smokers; to avoid it, you need to eat tuna, chicken and turkey, beef, liver, and especially Brazil nuts – just one nut contains the daily dose of selenium!

Water – apart from eating certain foods, smokers must remember to drink enough water – at least 1.5 liters a day (and this means clear water, not tea, coffee, or juice). Hydration is especially important for the brain.

Of course, no diet can replace quitting smoking, so keep trying! This can take years, of course; meanwhile, recognize that your bad habit is slowly destroying your body and that you need more vitamins and other nutrients than healthy people to counteract the damage.