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Nutritional Needs of Smokers

By Francine Juhasz

Smoking depletes the body of essential vitamins and minerals, leaving smokers more vulnerable to disease. Smokers can improve their vitamin levels by eating more fruits and vegetables as well as foods containing vitamins C, D and E, reports the University of California at Berkeley. This may help fight off or delay the onset of cancers and heart disease, but it will never make up for the unhealthy effects of smoking.

Foods Rich in Vitamin C

Smokers need several times more vitamin C than non-smokers because the effectiveness of that vitamin is decreased by nicotine, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin C deficiency increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and arterial disease. A healthy diet will not compensate for these risks, but it may slow their development. Many fruits are rich in vitamin C, as are some vegetables, such as red and green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, winter squash and potatoes. Because this vitamin is sensitive to heat, light and air, eat these foods raw or only lightly cooked.

Foods Rich in Vitamin E

In 2005, studies by the Linus Pauling Institute published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” showed 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 Maret Traber and Richard Bruno. Since vitamin E is believed to prohibit fat from depositing on artery walls, smoking may also cause hardening of the arteries. Foods rich in vitamin E include the oils of sunflower, cottonseed and safflower, mayonnaise, almonds, hazelnuts, wheat germ, peanuts, popcorn, walnuts, sweet potatoes, avocados and egg yolks.

Foods Rich in Vitamin D and Calcium

Cigarette smoking has adverse effects on calcium metabolism and vitamin D levels. Smokers need foods rich in calcium, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, rice beverages, soy drinks and calcium-enriched orange juice. Vitamin D can also be obtained from fish, egg yolks, milk, margarine and soy drinks.

Foods Containing Fiber and Carotenoids

Because smoking increases levels of free radicals in the body, smokers need a diet rich in phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and bioflavonoids, that are high in antioxidants able to neutralize cancer-causing agents. 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.

Healthy Unsaturated Fats

Smoking lowers HDL, or good, cholesterol levels and increases the risk of blood clots, according to the American Heart Association. It is important, if you smoke, to eliminate saturated fats from your diet and replace them with healthy unsaturated fats from foods, such as fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils. Good food choices are salmon, herring, trout, olives, avocados, walnuts, corn oil, olive oil and sunflower oil.

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