Diet to help Quit Smoking
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
I don’t have to write about how bad smoking is because most of us know. But most people do not know is that the right Quit Smoking Diet can support you if you want to stop smoking.
Yes really. Certain foods can reduce cravings, help to support a healthy mood, and detox your body to make quitting smoking easier. Whereas the wrong foods can make it worse in your quest to stop smoking and regain your health and vitality.
If you ask those who have successfully stopped smoking, they will tell you that quitting requires strong desire, determination, commitment and to focus on the benefits, such as more vitality and more money.
The more you develop a plan for quitting, the easier it will be for you to be successful. Nicotine is such an addictive substance that it messes with your mind and is hard to control.
When a substance has control over you it’s not a nice feeling, but with determination and the support of good foods, you can reclaim control of your body!
Whether you or a family member or a friend needs help, you’re in the right place. 🙂
When you quit smoking, your taste buds come back to life and you’ll start to enjoy food in a new way. During this time, food can help you to feel pleasantly full, which helps reduce the urge to smoke. Having something to chew and hold in your mouth can also help.
Dopamine Enhancing Foods
Cigarette (and marijuana) smoking causes a chemical imbalance in the brain involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Smoking temporarily increases dopamine, which is why people like to smoke because they may initially feel relaxed; but the downside is that the dopamine level quickly drops along with the relaxed feelings.
Caffeine can also trigger dopamine release in your body for a short time, however it is followed by a drop similar to smoking, so coffee is not a good alternative.
When you first stop smoking, you will most likely feel a withdrawal from dopamine, but by eating dopamine rich foods like bananas and sunflower seeds you raise your dopamine levels naturally and feel better sooner. Bananas can also increase another neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Sunflower seeds and bananas are rich in vitamin B which also helps with mood and the ability to cope with stress. Broccoli, avocado, spinach, lettuce, peas, oranges and melons are brilliant sources of vitamin B to help fight against cigarette cravings and addiction, and to support stress. Vitamin B battles fatigue, aids with red blood cell production for brain and heart function, and is a key ingredient in digestion and metabolism of nutrients.
Antioxidants, friend or foe?
There is a lot of literature that tells you antioxidants are great for your health, which is true. But for smokers it is a totally different story.
Many people now take antioxidants as supplements, rather than simply getting antioxidants from their food. While the extra concentration of nutrients from antioxidant supplements can be great to ward off various infections and diseases, it can also backfire and accelerate the growth of certain cancerous tumours.
According to research published in ‘Science Translational Medicine’, taking high doses of the antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin E (beta-carotene), selenium, vitamins A, C, lutein, lycopene, and acetylcysteine may speed up the progression of lung cancer in smokers and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a lung disease that is often triggered by smoking.
These antioxidants are meant to protect the body from disease by preventing cell damage caused by molecules known as free radicals. However, the protection they initially intended to provide can backfire on those who already have cancerous or precancerous cells in the lungs. Lung cancer studies showed that antioxidants harmed rather than helped cancer patients by accelerating the progression of the disease.
When the body detects cellular DNA damage (from smoking etc) that can lead to cancer, it releases a tumour-suppressing protein called p53. In the studies, the antioxidants not only destroyed free radicals, but also suppressed the release of p53, thereby actually helping the cancer cells escape detection from the body’s immune system.
By now, there should be no doctor or naturopath who would prescribe antioxidants to patients or clients who have smoked at any time during their life.
Even if there are small amounts of cancerous cells in your body that your body has control of, you do not want to increase the risk of lung cancer by taking antioxidants.
Substances that can make cigs taste better
Beware of substances that may make cigarettes taste better, such as alcohol, caffeine (especially coffee) and red meat. Best to cut back on them, at least until you have totally quit smoking. Alcohol and caffeine are often the ‘triggers’ that make you feel like a cigarette, which is another good reason to stay away from them while you’re quitting.
On the other hand, snacks with lots of salt make cigarettes taste bad, so foods like salted nuts, popcorn with salt and salty snacks in general have been shown to reduce nicotine and tobacco cravings. If you have high blood pressure, speak to your doctor before beginning a salty diet. If the salt you use is the mineral rich Himalayan or similar, then you will also get the bonus of extra minerals.
Although it is not recommended to consume salty foods for a long period of time, it may be beneficial for the short-term while you are going through the quit smoking craving process.
Other snacks that can help, even if not salty, are foods like celery, carrots and cucumbers. Many vegetables take longer to chew than other snacks, so they’ll keep your mouth busy while you work through your nicotine cravings. A carrot stick could be a great alternative to having a cig in your mouth. Possibly better than the old trick of a pencil or bit of plastic tube in the mouth to feel like a cig.
Avoid sugar and eat fruit instead
Some say that sugar helps to control nicotine cravings, and others say that it triggers cravings. But the bottom line is that sugar is not healthy for you, whether you smoke or not. If you crave a sweet snack, choose fruit whenever possible, since natural sugars are healthier than heavily refined snacks. Fruit also has added health benefits of boosting fibre, vitamins, and phytonutrients in your body.
B3 (nicotinamide) to the rescue
Over many years in clinic I have used supplemental doses of B3 with good results to help reduce clients’ cravings when they were giving up cigarettes. But high doses of B3 can also affect other B vitamins especially B6 and choline, so it is better to use food sources of B3 to help balance the body.
Vitamin B3 is also called niacin or nicotinamide, which sounds like nicotine for a very good reason. That is because nicotine from cigarettes takes up the same receptor sites as the vitamin B3 in our body, which depletes us of B3. Then you crave more cigarettes with the body’s hope that the nicotine will fill that B3 deficiency void, which was created by the cigarettes in the first place. Ironic?
Interestingly, vitamin B3 is a nerve calming vitamin, which is perhaps one reason why smokers say they feel calmer when they smoke (temporarily) and unsettled when they try to give up cigarettes, often to the point of being shaky. But that is the low dopamine kicking in as well as low B3.
Foods rich in B3
B3 rich foods include chicken, turkey, fish, pork, liver, beef, mushrooms, fresh green peas, sunflower seeds and avocado.
Foods that deplete B3
Foods that deplete B3 include processed foods, sugary foods/drinks, processed grains such as white bread, white flour, wheat products in general and corn syrup. In fact, grains contain ‘phytate’ – a substance that is considered an ‘anti-nutrient’ because it robs the body of vitamins such as B3. So I’m afraid it’s bad news for those trying to give up smoking by eating bread, pastries and cakes to fill them up.
Grapefruit is said to help clear the mucus congestion and toxins from the lungs and help them to heal after you have given up smoking.
A diet to help quit smoking is not guaranteed stop you smoking or considered a cure for any health condition.
However, meals and snacks rich in B3, as well as other B vitamins, zinc, and healthy fats and dopamine increasing foods can best support you to give up smoking with less withdrawal effects and cravings, and also help to restore your body, which is probably depleted by the effects of smoking.
Once you get past the cravings and withdrawal side effects, you may wish to swap over to the Asthma & Respiratory Conditions Diet to help your lungs heal and revitalise.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client name and identifying information changed
Wayne was in a new relationship and his girlfriend said his smoking was a ‘deal breaker’ as she didn’t want to kiss an ashtray. He was quite nervous as he had tried to give up before and failed, but he knew he needed to do this for his health and his new love was the positive extra boost he needed for more motivation.
I shared with Wayne everything I knew about the foods that would help and support him and foods that would make things worse.
I asked him to focus on foods rich in B3, have salty snacks rather than sweet snacks, and eat foods like bananas, sunflower seeds and avocadoes (which are great as a dip). These foods would help his body to release dopamine and serotonin to help calm his anxiety about giving up cigarettes.
I recommended to eliminate processed foods, gluten and dairy from his diet to allow his body to detoxify. I showed him that there were still heaps of yummy treats that he could choose that didn’t have nasty additives. The less chemicals he had in his body, then the easier it would be for him to clear the nicotine and associated withdrawal side effects.
His new lady was very supportive and was fully made aware that he might be a bit cranky for a few days until he got over the worst of it. The extra B vitamins in some of the food choices made this easier; apparently his moods were not too bad.
To make it easier for him they went to the beach, bush walks and other places with fresh air, away from where people smoked.
This combination was very successful for them. I say ‘them’ because if Wayne didn’t give up smoking, there may not have been a ‘them’.