June 5, 2008

A Nutrition Minute With Sharon Gruber: Smoking & Nutrition

by Sharon Gruber, Nutrition Consultant.

I met with a woman this morning in the medical clinic who had this to say: "I could taste my food! But I didn't even realize I wasn't tasting it until all of a sudden my buds were working again!" She quit smoking six weeks ago and her body is clearly thankful.

Nutrition has an important role to play in putting an end to the nicotine habit, and not just to avoid the dreaded weight gain that might follow.

You'd have to live on an island by yourself somewhere to not be aware of some of the health hazards from smoking. So why do about 45 million people still smoke? There are many reasons ranging from "I like it"to "I've tried to quit, and it's so hard...I've been doing it so long already."

I'd like to address two underlying reasons for the difficulty of quiting among those who really try but can't fight the urge. According to research by nutritionist Catherine McConkie, the American Pshychiatric Association reports that 75 percent of those who quit end up relapsing within one year. With all of the negative effects that smoking has on the body, it makes sense that for quitting to really stick, the body might first need to have a couple of potential issues addressed.

One of these is blood sugar imbalance. When a person has a craving, it is often hard for the body to identify just what it is that it wants. Fluctuations in blood sugar often manifest themselves as a craving for something sweet, and a person trying to quit smoking could interpret that as a craving for a cigarette. Preventing the highs and lows related to food throughout the day could make a significant impact on reducing the number of cravings. For more about blood sugar regulation, visit https://mail.breadforthecity.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.diabetes.org/nutrition-and-recipes/nutrition/healthyfoodchoices.jsp.

Another key factor is mitigating the physical symptoms that appear after quitting (weight gain, agitation, depression, hunger). These discomforts can last a long time and make it much harder to sustain a life without tobacco. Because of this, it is wise to give the body as much nutrient support as possible before quitting. It will give a boost to all the body systems that have taken such a hit from the years of nicotine and tar.

This means eating a diet that emphasizes foods that are minimally processed. Foods that are more like their natural state have their nutrients intact. This means eating protein at every meal, enjoying wholegrains instead of the white stuff, and lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Drinking eight glasses of water will help detoxify the body, and eating slowly and chewing thoroughly means the food will be digested better and the nutrients are more likely to get where they need to go in the body.

This also means avoiding white sugar, white flour,transfats, and alcohol (a sugar that adds to blood sugar imbalance). By preparing the body this way for a month or two, the bigger challenge of quitting smoking should be more palatable -- just like that food that has regained its flavor.

(Note: Thanks to Catherine McConkie, whose work in the Bauman College handbook I relied on for this blog entry.)

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