“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” New research by public health researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) reports that eating more fruits and vegetables could help people quit smoking and remain tobacco-free for a longer period of time.
The findings, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, are the first in a longitudinal study to look at the effects of eating fruits and vegetables have on those who are participating in smoking cessation programs. The team of researchers surveyed 1,000 smokers who were 25 years of age and older with random-digit dialing telephone interviews. 14 months later, they followed up with the participants and asked if they had stopped using tobacco during the last month.
“Other studies have taken a snapshot approach, asking smokers and nonsmokers about their diets,” explained Dr. Gary A. Giovino, the chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at UB, in a prepared statement. “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 study showed that smokers who ate the highest amount of fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to stay tobacco-free for a minimum of 30 days during the follow up, more so than those who consumed the least amount of fruits and vegetables. These findings were found consistently among people of different ages, income statuses, genders, races/ethnicities, education, and sexual orientation. Those smokers who ate the most amount of fruits and vegetables also appeared to smoke fewer cigarettes per day, waited a longer amount of time before smoking the first cigarette of the day, and showed to have less dependence on nicotine.
“We may have identified a new tool that can help people quit smoking,” noted Jeffrey P. Haibach, first author on the paper as well as graduate research assistant in the UB Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, in the statement. “Granted, this is just an observational study, but improving one’s diet may facilitate quitting.”
Researchers believe that there are a number of explanations for these results, including the possibility that the higher fiber consumption from fruits and vegetables make people feel less hungry.
“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,” explained Haibach in the statement.
Furthermore, unlike meats, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol, fruits and vegetables do not improve the taste of cigarettes.
“Foods like fruit and vegetables may actually worsen the taste of cigarettes,” remarked Haibach in the statement.
The research team states that more research needs to be done to see if the results can be replicated. If the findings are replicated, the investigators will work to determine the mechanisms in fruit and vegetables that help smokers quit the habit. They also want to look into research based on other dietary factors and smoking cessation.
“It’s possible that an improved diet could be an important item to add to the list of measures to
help smokers quit. 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,” concluded researchers in the statement.