People trying to quit smoking are three times more likely to succeed if they eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, according to a new study.
Pubic health researchers at the University at Buffalo also found a diet rich in produce helps people remain smoke-free longer.
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“Other studies have taken a snapshot approach, asking smokers and nonsmokers about their diets,” Gary Giovino, chairman of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, said in a university news release. “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 researchers conducted a national telephone survey of 1,000 smokers aged 25 and older. The survey participants received a follow-up call 14 months later to find out how much they had smoked in the past month.
The study, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, revealed that smokers who ate the most fruit and vegetables were three times more likely to have not smoked for at least 30 days at the time of the follow-up call than those eating the least amount of produce. The researchers noted this was true even after they took into account the smokers’ age, gender, race and ethnicity, education, income and motivation to be healthy.
The study also found smokers who ate more fruits and vegetables smoked fewer cigarettes daily, waited longer to smoke their first cigarette of the day and were less dependent on nicotine.
“We may have identified a new tool that can help people quit smoking,” said study first author Jeffrey Haibach, a graduate research assistant in the department of community health and health behavior. “Granted, this is just an observational study, but improving one’s diet may facilitate quitting.”
The researchers noted that fruits and vegetables worsen the taste of cigarettes, and that could help explain why they help smokers quit.
“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,” Haibach said.
The study’s authors pointed out that 19 percent of Americans still smoke cigarettes and most want to quit. They said more research is needed to confirm their findings and determine exactly how fruits and vegetables help smokers kick the habit. They added that other dietary factors involved in smoking cessation should also be investigated.
“It’s possible that an improved diet could be an important item to add to the list of measures to help smokers quit,” Haibach said. “We certainly need to continue efforts to encourage people to quit and help them succeed, including proven approaches like quitlines, policies such as tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws, and effective media campaigns.”