The nutritional needs of smokers and non-smokers are different. People who smoke often have deficiencies in numerous nutrients including zinc, calcium, folate, vitamin C and vitamin E, beta-carotene, lycopene and essential fatty acids in the omega-3 and omega-6 families, depleting the body of essential vitamins and minerals, leaving smokers more vulnerable to disease.
There are many possible causes for this depletion, including free radicals – carcinogenic or cancer-causing agents – in cigarette smoke that destroy natural antioxidants. However, for some nutrients the most important single cause might be poor diet rather than smoking itself (smokers have, on average, a less well-balanced diet than non-smokers).
To quit smoking there is a high need for protective antioxidant vitamins to neutralize free radicals. The main antioxidant vitamins are vitamin C and vitamin E (works best with selenium). Phytochemicals such as bioflavonoids and carotenoids (eg. beta-carotene) are especially rich in antioxidants.
Smokers need several times more vitamin C than non-smokers because the effectiveness of that vitamin is decreased by nicotine. Vitamin C is important for preventing uncomfortable bleeding of your gums, but more importantly for maintaining proper blood plasma levels.
Vitamin C is also known to react against the contaminants in tobacco smoke: as an antioxidant against free radicals, as a chelator of lead and as an inhibitor of nitrosamine formation from nitrogen dioxides.
- 300 mg of vitamin C to nourish your cells fully.
Studies show that blood plasma levels of vitamin E decrease and disappear more rapidly in smokers than non-smokers. Because low levels of vitamin E do not provide sufficient protection against free radicals, this may be one of the reasons why smoking might cause cancer, according to researchers. Since vitamin E is believed to prohibit fat from depositing on artery walls, smoking may also cause hardening of the arteries.
- 100 IU vitamin E to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Selenium is a mineral, not an antioxidant nutrient. However, it is a component of antioxidant enzymes. Plant foods like rice and wheat are the major dietary sources of selenium in most countries, but the amount of selenium in soil, which varies by region, determines the amount of selenium in the foods grown in that soil.
- 100 cmg selenium, a partner in the fight against damaging free radicals, also supports the antioxidant effect of vitamin E.
Phytochemicals: Bioflavonoids and Carotenoids
Phytochemicals are naturally occurring substances in plants that help them fight disease, a kind of immune system for the plant world. When you ingest plant-based foods, you are taking in these powerful nutrients that are able to neutralize cancer-causing agents. Diets that make good use of a wide array of fruits and vegetables help to ensure you get a high phytochemical intake.
Smokers need a diet rich in phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and bioflavonoids. These can be obtained by daily servings of yellow, red, orange and deep green vegetables and by eating green, orange, yellow or red fruits. Corn, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, red peppers, tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, mangoes and papaya make good food choices. These foods also contain fiber, which is important to colon health.
Lycopene is the major carotenoid found in tomato products, while beta-carotene is found in carrots and other orange or red fruits and vegetables.
Ignite Your Healthy Life
Smokers have different reasons for lighting up, but they all have one thing in common: smoking not only damages one’s health, it also contributes to the overall depletion of nutrients that your body needs to function properly.
The first piece of advice for smokers is, of course, to stop smoking. A regimen of diet or supplementation can make up for the adverse consequences of smoking. If you smoke, you need to eat even healthier than a non-smoker just to get the same nutrients. To help your body’s use of nutrients, drink green tea, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and take vitamin C and vitamin E supplements – with selenium. …And of course, look into quitting!