Foods to Help You Quit Smoking

by Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Author, Eating for Energy


Smoking and the spread of our Westernized lifestyle are the two main factors pushing up cancer deaths, not only in Canada, but in developing countries globally. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the total number of annual cancer deaths globally will double within the next twenty years.

The IARC predicts that by 2010 the total number of worldwide cancer deaths will overtake cardiovascular and heart disease deaths, and that smoking and obesity will eventually become the leading causes of cancer (overtaking chronic infections) within the next twenty years.

So, if you are getting ready to quit smoking, there is no better time than right now. And, the sooner you quit, the more you extend your life. According to the American Journal of Public Health, life expectancy among smokers who quit at age 35 exceeded that of continuing smokers by 6.9 to 8.5 years for men and 6.1 to 7.7 years for women. Smokers who quit at younger ages realized greater life extensions and even those who quit much later in life gained some benefits: among smokers who quit at age 65 years, men gained 1.4 to 2.0 years of life, and women gained 2.7 to 3.7 years.

But let’s face it – quitting smoking can be tough. You have to very committed and determined to do whatever it takes to stick to your intention. Ultimately, you need to realize that your body is precious and that it’s the only one you’ve got, and that if you don’t care for it, it won’t return the favour!

So let’s look at some ways that eating a healthy diet and behavioural choices can help you stay tobacco free.


Eat More Vegetables and Less Meat

Wow, yet another reason to adopt a more vegetarian diet! A recent Duke University study showed that fruits and vegetables make cigarettes taste terrible. But meat, coffee, and alcoholic beverages make smoking much tastier.

These findings demonstrate that cigarette addiction is not just about nicotine but that there are also sensory effects like the taste and smell of related experiences that are important.

The other benefit to eating more fruits and vegetables is their health-protective properties against smoking. For instance, the cancer preventive properties of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables appear to work amazingly well in smokers, according to new research.

In one study, presented at the Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, the protective effect of cruciferous vegetable intake (among smokers) ranged from a 20 to 50 percent reduction in cancer risk depending on the type of vegetable consumed and the duration and intensity of smoking. The researchers found that among current smokers, only the consumption of raw cruciferous vegetables was associated with risk reduction of lung cancer.

These studies reiterate the need to incorporate more veggies into your diet, not only for your overall well-being, but also for your ability to quit smoking and prevent smoking-related cancers.



Ginseng has been shown to prevent the nicotine-induced release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is what makes people feel good after smoking and is part of the addiction process.

Although intriguing, no studies to date have examined whether ginseng supplements can help people quit smoking. Nonetheless, ginseng is known to be one of many energy-boosting foods and has stress-reducing effects which may be attractive to many smokers. Ginseng should not be used indefinitely, but rather 3 or 4 times per year in 1-2 week bouts.

The research on whether herbal supplements can effectively help abstain from smoking is pretty scarce. Truly, the most effective way to quit smoking in the long run is through behaviour modification. This can take time, but it is the most rewarding. Here’s one idea to get you started.


Keep Your Hands and Mouth Busy

If you want quit smoking, try drinking glass of water or get your “oral fix” by eating carrots or celery sticks. The idea is to do something with your hands and mouth that is not smoking. And it might even be helpful to engage in some of these healthy eating behaviors before quitting, to alter and worsen the taste of cigarettes. This could make quitting a little easier.

Many people hesitate quitting smoking because their “oral fixation” will still need to be satiated. And, if not through cigarettes, then most likely through foods. As a result, they tend to gain weight. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Sometimes, it’s a matter of replacing one behaviour with another. So if you feel anxious, nervous, or irritable why not go for a brisk walk or an intense workout. Chances are you won’t even feel like a smoke once you’ve finished!

So the next time you have the urge to have a smoke ask yourself what that cigarette is going to do for you. Will it relax you, make you happy, or ease your hunger pain? When you become aware of your desires, you then have the power choose healthier alternatives to satisfy them.



Taylor, D. et al (2002). Benefits of Smoking Cessation for Longevity. American Journal of Public Health, 92 (6): 990-996.

World Cancer Report. International Agency for Research on Cancer, December 9, 2008.




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