What is a Good Diet for Heavy Smokers
If you’re a smoker, you’re probably painfully aware that the tide of public sentiment has turned overwhelmingly against you. No longer are you and your smoldering cigarette merely tolerated; you are now an outcast—banned, or at least discouraged, from lighting up almost everywhere.
Today, smokers are ostracized; even smoking in a smoking section can draw complaints. On any city street, see the smokers huddle in office-building doorways, because their workplaces are smoke-free. Smoking in the open air on a park bench is asking for trouble, and smoking in someone else’s home—unless that someone is also a smoker—is totally out of the question.
Smokers, once perceived as sophisticates or mavericks, are seen these days to be either hopeless addicts or boorish pollution- spreaders.
However, though the movement to ban cigarette smoking is more vociferous and effective than ever, it is by no means new: Throughout history, there have been scores of public attempts to curb smoking by punishing or segregating smokers. For example, in Constantinople during the 1600’s, those who smoked in public were executed—in public. But Turkish smokers continued to light up anyway.
Though the first Romanov czar, Mikhail Feodorovich, sentenced smokers to whippings, beatings, and nostril-slittings, Muscovites paid Europe’s highest prices for tobacco. Russian smokers were known to sell their clothes to finance their habit.
King James I of England decreed tobacco to be immoral and unhealthy. But when he tried to tax tobacco into oblivion, he instead created a bustling black market for it.
In America, an aggressive anti-smoking campaign linking cigarettes with maladies from colorblindness to constipation was conducted in the years before and during Prohibition. Many states attempted to pass highly restrictive laws governing tobacco use. Typical was Illinois, where legislation was proposed to “disenfranchise and render [smokers] incapable of holding any office of trust or profit.”
Once alcohol prohibition was achieved, it seemed that a similar fate was in store for tobacco. But by 1928 all anti-smoking regulations had been discredited or rescinded.
Today, the pendulum has swung again. We now know more than ever about the harmful effects of first- and second-hand smoke, and anti-smoking laws are beginning to reappear in response to a new round of attacks. One thing remains clear, however: Despite extreme and punitive attempts to legislate the use of tobacco, people who are addicted to nicotine will continue to smoke. In light of this fact, according to the New York Academy of Sciences, any effort that reduces the health risks associated with cigarette smoking is an “important health-care contribution to the peoples of the world.”
|Smoking does not inevitably lead to the diseases shown here; but it certainly increases the odds that you’ll contract one or more of them. If you refuse to quit, you owe it to yourself to boost the protective elements in your diet to the highest levels considered safe by the experts.|
Although fewer people smoke now than ever before, more than one in six Americans—some 48 million people—still light up, according to the American Cancer Society. These 48 million smokers place themselves at increased risk of cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases whose consequences can be painful, debilitating, or fatal. Such diseases include:
|•||Atherosclerosis (formation of fatty deposits in arteries) leading to conditions such as coronary heart disease|
|•||Peripheral vascular disease (affects blood supply to the limbs)|
|•||Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood supply to the brain)|
|•||Emphysema and chronic obstructive lung disease (narrowing or collapse of the airways)|
Additionally, smoking increases your risk of these and other cancers:
|•||Colon and rectal cancer|
|•||Cancers of the larynx, pharynx, and mouth|
Smokers are at a greater-than-average risk for scores of serious medical problems. In fact, in the words of a respected scientific journal, “it is difficult to find, in modern medical literature, a disease or abnormality which is not affected in some manner by cigarette smoking.”
By now, you’ve surely heard the estimate that each cigarette you smoke shortens your life by eight minutes. You probably also recall former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s warning that smoking is “the single most preventable cause of death, responsible for one out of every six deaths in the U.S.” In addition, the American Cancer Society now states that 30 percent of all cancers are unequivocally caused by cigarette smoking.
For women, smoking poses a number of additional dangers:
|•||Women smokers over the age of 35 should stop taking birth control pills because of an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.|
|•||Smoking hastens development of osteoporosis, the “brittle bone” disease that affects many postmenopausal women. Studies indicate that women lose bone density in direct proportion to the number of cigarettes they smoke.|
|•||Smoking when pregnant endangers your unborn baby, and can affect your new baby’s health for years to come. Mothers who smoke have a higher risk of miscarriages. They more frequently give birth prematurely, more often to low birthweight babies.|
|•||Maternal smoking has been associated with sudden infant death syndrome, impaired intellectual development of children, and other health and behavioral problems.|
|•||Women smokers may have more difficulties associated with menopause; symptoms of menopause may arise earlier.|
Over 4,000 known poisons—including formaldehyde, DDT, and arsenic—are found in cigarettes. Of those poisons, 60 are known to cause cancer. Here’s an overview of just a few of them:
Nicotine. Defined by Dorland’s Medical Dictionary as a “very poisonous alkaloid obtained from tobacco,” nicotine appears to be unsafe at any level. One drop—the amount contained in 145 cigarettes—can be fatal. Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, which in turn raises your blood pressure. Nicotine causes an increase of blood fats, including cholesterol. Nicotine is highly addictive. Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts have reported that quitting smoking is harder than kicking drinking or drugs.
Tar. The tar in tobacco smoke contains chemicals called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons that scientists have implicated in some 40 to 80 percent of all human cancers.
Acetaldehyde. A disease-causing chemical found in cigarettes and smog, acetaldehyde acts as a free radical. Free radicals disrupt the body’s normal molecular functions, and can cause damage which scientists have linked to accelerated aging and a variety of deadly diseases.
Heavy Metals. Lead, cadmium, radioactive polonium, and arsenic are just four of the poisonous heavy metals contained in cigarette smoke. These contribute to the suppression of the body’s immune system and act as free radicals.
Carbon Monoxide and Nitrogen Oxide. These deadly gases destroy the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. They can oxidize blood fats and convert them into cancer-causing compounds.
If you’re a smoker, try to quit. If you can’t, make certain that you pay close attention to your diet and follow the recommendations that follow. Compelling evidence indicates that a diet rich in antioxidants (vitamins C, E, B-complex, and beta-carotene) may help protect your body against some of the ravages of smoking.
Ironically there is a solid body of evidence suggesting that smokers generally have less healthy diets than do nonsmokers. The studies vary, but nearly all bear out the fact that smokers eat fewer fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereals and fiber than nonsmokers, while taking in significantly more meat, alcohol, coffee, fat, and cholesterol.
The research portrays smokers as a group who routinely fail to watch their health as closely as others. In 1987, the National Center for Health Statistics conducted a survey of 44,123 households to determine life-style differences among never, former, and current tobacco users. It found that, compared to nonsmokers, smokers:
|•||Take more risks|
|•||Have more sexual partners|
|•||Drink more alcohol|
|•||Exercise and sleep less|
|•||Don’t take their vitamins as regularly as nonsmokers|
And the more you smoke, the worse the picture looks: Poor health habits were found most often among the heaviest smokers. Despite all the grim statistics, however, it’s obvious that most smokers fail to succumb to diseases directly attributable to their habit. What do the millions of smokers who never develop tobacco-related illnesses do differently? Quite possibly, these smokers may eat better and have healthier lifestyles. In fact, some studies show that the diets of former smokers more closely resemble those of never-smokers, suggesting that, at least in this group, there was a greater concern about general health.
Another clue: In Japan, where the per capita consumption of cigarettes is the world’s highest, the incidence of lung cancer is nearly the world’s lowest. Some experts credit the Japanese diet with the explanation: the Japanese eat less red meat and consume more fiber than do most Americans.
In fact, these are two of the recommendations found in the American Cancer Society’s latest dietary guidelines for reducing cancer risk. Revised in 1996, the guidelines advocate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, and low in meat, dairy products, and other high-fat foods. Although no diet can guarantee full protection against any disease, following these recommendations may counteract at least some of smoking’s harmful effects.
Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources. Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Eat other plant-based foods, such as breads, cereals, grain products, rice, pasta, and beans, several times each day. A growing number of studies show that eating fruits and vegetables, especially green and dark yellow vegetables and those in the cabbage family, as well as soy products and beans, reduces the odds of many types of cancers, particularly those of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts. Grains are an important source of many vitamins and minerals such as folate, calcium, and selenium, all of which have been associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. Beans (legumes) are especially rich in nutrients that are thought to protect against cancer.
Limit your intake of high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources. Choose foods low in fat and limit your consumption of meats. Red meat in particular has been associated with higher rates of cancer, most notably of the colon and prostate. High-fat diets have been associated with increased odds of cancer of the colon, rectum, prostate, and endometrium.
Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages, if you drink at all. The combination of alcohol and cigarettes, snuff, or chewing tobacco yields a dramatic increase in the risk of oral and esophageal cancers. (The effect is notably greater than the sum of the parts.)
Be physically active: achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise can help protect against some cancers simply by regulating your weight. An imbalance of caloric intake and energy output can lead to obesity, which in turn increases the risk of cancer of the colon and rectum, prostate, endometrium, kidney, and, among postmenopausal women, the breast.
According to the New York Academy of Sciences, a variety of nutritional agents appear to reduce or inhibit the cancer-causing properties of cigarette smoke. These include antioxidant vitamins as well as other chemicals found in certain foods.
Elsewhere in this book, readers have been warned against taking vitamin supplements in excess of recommended daily allowances. They have been told that megadosing on vitamins—taking several times the recommended daily allowances of certain vitamins and nutrients—has not been shown to provide any health benefits.
However, smokers are in a nutritional class of their own. Their systems are continually bombarded with extraordinary levels of potent toxins. In view of this, smokers should weigh the probably minor risks of megadosing against the possible protective benefits that certain vitamins and minerals may provide.
Check with your doctor. If he agrees that the supplements are a safe bet for you, give them a try.
When considering which supplements to take, choose products from well-established, respected vitamin manufacturers. (See “Basic Questions: Vitamins, Minerals, Fiber, and More” for additional guidelines.) You should look for products that contain the following:
|•||Vitamin A (and its relatives, retinoids and retinoic acid)|
|•||Vitamins C, E, and B-complex (especially B12)|
|•||Folic acid and folates|
One approach to supplementation is typified in Formula for Life, by Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen. This is one of the better known books available about ways to protect yourself against the damage caused by environmental pollutants, stress, smoking, excess weight, and other threats to good health. The book notes that much—though not all—of the damage smoking does to your body is caused by free radicals, the highly reactive, unstable compounds that can oxidize (burn) molecules within the cells, including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and even DNA. Conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer to cataracts have been blamed on the damage done by uncontrolled proliferation of free radicals in the body.
To keep free radicals at safe levels, the Kronhausens recommend the following “micronutrient menu” to their readers:
|Vitamin C||2,000 milligrams|
|Vitamin E||100 international units (IU)|
|(Others recommend 400 IU)|
|(an amino acid)|
|Thiamin (vitamin B1)||80 milligrams|
|Riboflavin (B2)||8 milligrams|
|Niacin (B3)||40 milligrams|
|Calcium pantothenate (B5)||240 milligrams|
|Pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6)||80 milligrams|
|Cyanocobalamin (B12)||400 milligrams|
|Ergocalciferol (D3)||125 IU|
|(as calcium carbonate)||Source: From the PDR® Family Guide to Nutrition and Health™|
Some studies indicate that components of green tea (the kind served in many Asian restaurants) and red wine may be highly effective antioxidants.
In France, where consumption of both cigarettes and animal fats is high, the incidence of coronary heart disease is lower than would be expected. Some experts say red wine is the reason; studies have yet to find the ingredient responsible for this phenomenon.
Studies indicate that certain micronutrients found in fruits and vegetables may protect smokers against the toxic effects of tobacco smoke. Some of these nutrients are the same antioxidants provided by vitamin supplements, but others can be obtained only from the fruits and vegetables themselves.
The National Cancer Institute says that 5 to 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables help protect against cancer. In the face of studies on the importance of antioxidant vitamins, smokers would be well-advised to eat at least nine servings, and even more, if possible. The National Cancer Institute defines a serving as 1 medium-sized fruit, 6 ounces of 100 percent fruit juice, a half cup of cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables, or a quarter cup of dried fruit.
Good choices include:
|•||Cruciferous vegetables —broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts|
|•||Green leafy vegetables —spinach, watercress, collard, turnip, and mustard greens, chard|
|•||Carrots, red peppers, winter squash, yams|
Frequent consumption of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish may help protect smokers against chronic obstructive lung disease, according to a study conducted in 1994. The researchers found that smokers who ate the most fish were less likely to have such respiratory problems as bronchitis, emphysema, or impaired lung function. They theorize that omega-3 acids inhibit the inflammatory processes triggered by tobacco smoke.
Since smoking raises your cholesterol level and promotes the development of fatty deposits in the arteries—just like the saturated fats in meat—a meat-eating smoker doubles his risk. So if you won’t cut down on cigarettes, at least cut back on meat—and replace it with fish whenever you can.
Ten Tips For Quiting
Yes, it seems to be true: Smokers can, to some extent, curb at least some of tobacco smoke’s damage—by taking special combinations of vitamins, eating at least nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, increasing their consumption of fish, and lowering consumption of saturated fats.
But you have to ask yourself: Is it really worth it? Are the pleasures of smoking worth all the trouble and risk?
If you can unequivocally answer “yes,” then dig into those vegetables, down those vitamins, tear into that halibut . . . and find an isolated place where you can light up. And keep your fingers crossed that you don’t develop lung cancer, heart or respiratory disease, or any of the many other conditions that smoking may aggravate.
If you are a truly addicted smoker, like most of those who smoke, deep down you really do want to quit. What prevents you from trying is your fear of the consequences.
You’ll gain weight and get fat. Your job and life are already so stressful that you’ll snap when you quit. You won’t know what to do with your hands. You won’t be able to concentrate. Quitting will hurt in awful ways you can’t even imagine. Quitting might even be physically painful. And you know for sure that quitting will make you crazy, at least temporarily. There are even many smokers (the writer Kurt Vonnegut is one) who believe that quitting after a lifetime of smoking could wreak dangerous havoc on your body. Creative people fear losing their gifts. And statistics tell you that quitting smoking is difficult—even impossible for some people.
To make quitting successful, you must turn it into a challenge only you are smart and strong enough to overcome.
Those who quit smoking soon have much to celebrate. Within a day, your body’s levels of toxic carbon monoxide and nicotine will rapidly decrease. Your sense of taste and smell may improve, as may your stamina. Though you may still cough, no longer will it be a smoker’s cough; your cough is now one of recovery, as your lungs begin to detoxify themselves.
Your risk for pancreatic and esophageal cancer decreases almost immediately when you quit. By the end of your first nonsmoking year, your risk of a heart attack begins to decrease too. Eventually, your statistical risk of developing smoking-related diseases will mirror those of people who’ve never smoked at all: Sometime between your seventh and tenth nonsmoking anniversary, your statistical chance of having a heart attack, or developing bladder, lung, and other cancers approaches that of people who have never smoked.