Eating fruits and vegetables may help some people quit smoking, a new study suggests.
In the study, smokers who ate the most fruit and vegetables were three times more likely to be tobacco-free for at least 30 days than those who ate the least amount of fruits and vegetables, the researchers said.
The results held even after the researcher's took into account factors that could influence people's likelihood of successfully staying away from smoking, including the participants' age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, household income and how frequently they exercised, drank heavily or used illicit drugs.
The study also found that smokers with higher fruit and vegetable consumption smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke their first cigarette of the day and scored lower on a commonly-used test of nicotine dependence.
"We may have identified a new tool that can help people quit smoking," said study researcher Jeffrey P. Haibach, a graduate research assistant at the University of Buffalo.
However, the study showed an association, and not a cause-effect link. More research is needed to confirm the findings, and identify the possible mechanisms that could explain how eating fruits and vegetables may help smokers quit.
Haibach and colleagues surveyed 1,000 smokers ages 25 and older in the United States in telephone interviews. Fourteen months later, participants were contacted again, and asked if they had abstained from tobacco use during the previous month.
To be included in the study, participants had to have smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, and have been currently smoking daily or on some days at the study's start.
Several explanations for the findings are possible: people who consume a lot of fruits and vegetables may be less nicotine dependent, or may have a decreased desire to smoke, the researchers said.
Fruits and vegetables are also high in fiber, which may give people a sense of satiety or fullness so that they feel less of a need to smoke. Smokers sometimes confuse hunger with an urge to smoke, Haibach said.
And unlike some foods which are known to enhance the taste of tobacco, such as meats, caffeinated beverages and alcohol, fruits and vegetables may actually worsen the taste of cigarettes, Haibach said.
The study was published May 21 in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.