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The Best Foods for Smokers

author image Michelle Kerns
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.
The Best Foods for Smokers
Blackberries growing on a bush. Photo Credit: igorr1/iStock/Getty Images

Smoking increases your risk of cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, eye disorders such as cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, dental problems and stroke, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's because the substances in cigarettes can damage your organs and increase your body's level of free radicals, compounds that harm DNA and cellular tissue. There aren't any foods that can prevent or undo the effects of smoking, but research indicates that some are better than others for smokers. Ask your doctor for advice if you're having trouble quitting.

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Have a Cup of Tea

A study published in the journal Cancer in 2008 reported that smokers who regularly drink green or black tea are less likely to develop lung cancer than smokers who don't. The researchers hypothesized this might be due to tea's high concentration of catechin. Catechin is a phytochemical compound known as a flavonoid. Flavonoids like catechin are antioxidants and can inhibit the activity of free radicals. Dr. Zuo-Feng Zhang, one of the scientists involved in the study, told the UCLA Newsroom that drinking tea won't guarantee lung cancer protection, but he advises smokers to include it in their diet. Black grapes, blackberries and dark chocolate are other good sources of catechin.

Eat Produce High in Vitamin C

Smokers are more likely to become deficient in vitamin C than nonsmokers since their bodies require more of the nutrient to counteract free radicals. While nonsmoking men need 90 milligrams of vitamin C daily and women need approximately 75 milligrams, the National Institutes of Health says a smoker should consume at least 35 milligrams more than these recommendations per day. Failing to get enough could increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and eye disorders. Smokers should include plenty of vitamin C-rich produce in their diet daily, such as tomatoes, berries like strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers and all types of citrus fruits.

Incorporate Wheat Germ

Smokers who increased their vitamin E intake while abstaining from cigarettes for a week improved the elasticity and function of their blood vessels, determined a study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine in 2013. This could lower their risk of developing heart disease in the future. The study subjects consumed a high-dose vitamin E supplement each day, far more than occurs naturally, but smokers may benefit from increasing their intake of foods high in vitamin E. Wheat germ and wheat germ oil are the best sources. Nuts, vegetable oils like olive or canola oil, sunflower seeds, eggs and leafy greens are also rich in vitamin E.

Fill Up on Cruciferous Vegetables

Research published in BMC Cancer in 2010 concluded that the more cruciferous vegetables a smoker eats, the less likely he is to get lung cancer. Cruciferous vegetables are the only natural dietary source of isothiocyanates -- compounds that, in laboratory studies, prevent the development, growth and spread of cancer cells. They're also rich in a variety of other antioxidants that can benefit smokers, including vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids like beta carotene. Kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower, cabbage, watercress, arugula, radishes and bok choy all belong in the cruciferous vegetable family. It's not known how many servings a smoker should aim to have daily, but the Linus Pauling Institute advises at least five per week for healthy adults.

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