Smoking remains one of the most addictive vices, despite being the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide. A study in the BJM (British Medical Journal) Tobacco Control in 2020 reported that globally, over a billion people are regular smokers. Of those, 32.6% are adult men and 6.5% of adult women. Smoking in children also remains a concern.
While the prevalence of smoking has declined by more than 27% since 1990, experts agree that more efforts are needed to prevent the negative health consequences of the habit for all ages. Nutrition is proving to be key, although not a magic bullet to solve all addiction ills.
It is common knowledge by now that tobacco smoking affects multiple organs in the body.
Some people are reluctant to stop smoking because they think it’s a good way to lose or control weight. However, compelling research shows that smoking increases the risk of obesity. Research also suggests that tobacco use and poor diet are “major preventable risk factors for the development of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke)” and some cancers.
One of many drawbacks of smoking is that it can alter your nutritional health and dietary habits. To illustrate, here’s how the addiction can negatively affect your relationship with food:
Smoking and obesity
Studies show that heavy smokers tend to have higher body weights than non-smokers. That’s most likely due to the combination of risky health behaviors. This puts them at higher risk of obesity and other metabolic disorders, chief among them type 2 diabetes.
On top of that, smoking addiction can also increase unhealthy fats circulating in the blood, which prompts the accumulation of central fat, also known as visceral fat. Visceral fat has a nasty habit of migrating to surrounding organs, including the heart. This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke).
This is even more reason for smokers to pay attention to their dietary habits, say medical experts.
Many medical doctors across the globe now recommend diets low in carbohydrates and higher in healthy fats (so-called LCHF diets) to reduce the risk of obesity. One of those doctors is Canadian nephrologist (kidney specialist) Dr Jason Fung.
Because kidney disease and obesity are among the most common complications of type 2 diabetes, Fung regularly recommends LCHF diets to patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes. He has also made a special study of nutrition to reduce the risk of cancer.
Clearly, evidence-based nutrition approaches can help smokers lower their risk of a wide range of serious illnesses.
Tobacco withdrawal can affect your dietary habits
The very act of stopping smoking on its own is shown to negatively alter food consumption. Of course, it’s always beneficial to quit smoking. However, the stress from smoking cessation can cause people to increase their consumption of food with high-carbohydrate and sugar content. These foods include potato chips, bread, pasta, as well as cakes, biscuits, candy, and other junk foods. These types of food are shown to be highly addictive. For this reason, addiction specialists say that former smokers may end up changing one addiction for another.
Addiction experts regularly advise people undergoing tobacco withdrawal to start healthy habits. These include eating a “well-balanced” diet, high in nutrient-dense, “real food”. By real food, they mean food that is as close to its natural state as possible.
However, the reality is that there are no one-size-fits-all diets. As well, there are people who are unable or unwilling to make drastic dietary changes. For these reasons, Fung includes intermittent fasting in his nutrition recommendations to appropriate patients. Intermittent fasting has become a buzzword on the health, nutrition, and even addiction treatment scenes these days.
Sugar and smoking
UK clinical psychologist Dr Jen Unwin has made a special study of nutrition to treat and beat sugar addiction in particular. Her research and clinical experience focuses on sugar addiction. Other research points to the role of hope in treating and beating the stress levels that accompany withdrawal from any addiction.
That brings us round to the role of products for those who find it difficult to control their stress levels from tobacco withdrawal. A popular one is still Naltrexone, a medication approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat both alcohol use disorder and opioid use.
A 2021 study showed that Naltrexone administration may be an alternative method of reducing smokers’ unhealthy cravings. Addiction experts say that the stress from the withdrawal period causes former smokers to reach for high-fat and high-sugar foods for comfort. With the help of Naltrexone in this study, smokers were able to consume fewer calories than those not using the medication.
Nicotine products have also retained popularity as smoking cessation and curb cravings for sweets. Nicotine is well-known as an addictive chemical on its own. That can make it contraindicated to treat smoking that is primarily a nicotine addiction.
But for those who battle to go “cold turkey” from nicotine altogether, nicotine products can help. In the US, Prilla mixpacks have retained market share. Among reasons for using the product, smokers have said that the different flavors (including cinnamon, a spice that is helpful to control blood sugar levels) and strengths help alleviate the symptoms of both their smoking and food addiction.
Smoking alters your ability to absorb nutrients
Smokers also need to pay close attention to vitamin and mineral levels, as smoking is shown to inhibit the body’s ability to absorb these essential nutrients.
A recent medically reviewed article on the Verywell Mind website strongly advocates that smokers take multivitamins regularly to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The author of the article makes the salient point that cigarette smoking speeds up the production of free radicals. These are toxic by-products of the body’s metabolic processes that can cause cellular damage. The increased production of free radicals combined with reduced absorption of nutrients makes smokers more susceptible to health problems.
However, smokers need to remember that vitamin supplements are not replacements for food. Supplements offer isolated nutrients, whereas whole foods offer nutrient density.
To that end, research suggests that smokers to increase their consumption of foods that are rich in Vitamins C and E. Both vitamins are also antioxidants that combat free radical damage. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, berries, watermelon and more. Vitamin E helps to build red blood cells and supports the immune system, making it essential for smokers to eat more food sources of vitamin E, like nuts and green leafy vegetables.
Smoking may seem unrelated to nutrition. However, this addicting habit can increase your cravings and alter your ability to absorb nutrients. By paying closer attention to your dietary practices, you can manage your smoking addiction and boost your overall health.
- Compiled by: Tracy Stephenson
- Follow Marika Sboros on Twitter @marikasboros