Reluctant smokers spend millions each year on smoking cessation programs and products, but maybe all that's needed is a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, along with a healthy dose of willpower.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB) surveyed 1,000 smokers aged 25 and older from around the country, using random-digit dialing telephone interviews. They followed up with the respondents fourteen months later, asking them if they had abstained from tobacco use during the previous month.
"Other studies have taken a snapshot approach, asking smokers and nonsmokers about their diets," said Gary A. Giovino, PhD, chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at UB. "We knew from our previous work that people who were abstinent from cigarettes for less than six months consumed more fruits and vegetables than those who still smoked. What we didn't know was whether recent quitters increased their fruit and vegetable consumption or if smokers who ate more fruits and vegetables were more likely to quit."
The UB study found that the more fruit and vegetables smokers consumed, the more likely they were to be tobacco-free for at least 30 days at follow-up. The findings persisted even when adjustments were made to take into account age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, household income and health orientation.
They also found that smokers with higher fruit and vegetable consumption smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke their first cigarette of the day and scored lower on a common test of nicotine dependence.
"We may have identified a new tool that can help people quit smoking," said Jeffrey P. Haibach, first author on the paper and graduate research assistant in the UB Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. "Granted, this is just an observational study, but improving one's diet may facilitate quitting."
The researchers see several possible explanations, such as less nicotine dependence for people who consume a lot of fruits and vegetables or the fact that higher fiber consumption from fruits and vegetables make people feel fuller.
"It is also possible that fruits and vegetables give people more of a feeling of satiety or fullness so that they feel less of a need to smoke, since smokers sometimes confuse hunger with an urge to smoke," said Haibach.
And unlike some foods which are known to enhance the taste of tobacco, such as meats, caffeinated beverages and alcohol, fruits and vegetables do not enhance the taste of tobacco. In fact, Haibach says foods like fruit and vegetables may actually worsen the taste of cigarettes.