Roses in the ashtray may look cool on anti-tobacco day, but they do little to change smoking habits. If you go by the numbers, smoking debilitates the health and quality of life of more people than any other addiction or stimulant. Cigarettes can be smoked alone, are legal, relatively cheap, easily accessible, and provide instant gratification.
Smokers pay little, if any, heed to the numerous warnings printed on cigarette packs. This is because the damage due to smoking is not visible right away—cancers and heart-related diseases happen sometime in the future, after prolonged exposure to smoke; also, instant gratification becomes more important than the damage itself.
Smokers also tend to rationalize, often believing that smoking helps beat stress and tough deadlines, improves concentration and even relieves constipation. And of course, when smokers socialize, party and drink, the quantum of cigarettes smoked increases manifold. Smokers are also known to consume fewer fruits and vegetables, partake of higher amounts of alcohol and caffeine, have disturbed sleep patterns, be inactive and avoid or procrastinate about medical check-ups more than non-smokers. It is well-established that smoking even five cigarettes a day affects and paralyses several of the body’s health-sustaining and restorative processes. Smoking more than 10 a day makes the cumulative damage significantly worse. Apart from the well-known facts that smoking damages the lungs, heart and kidneys, and raises blood pressure, let’s look at the effects it has on the the absorption and distribution of nutrients in the body.
Nutrient thief: One cigarette smoked can rob the body of 25mg vitamin C.
Smoking chokes millions of alveoli or air sacs of the lungs by lining these with tar and preventing the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. Oxygen is necessary for the absorption of iron, which in turn carries this oxygen in the blood and plays a major role in the production of red blood cells. This entire process fuels energy, work ability and mental clarity. As iron absorption goes down because of smoking, it may lead to fatigue, weakness and a host of other ailments that affect the normal functioning of the body.
Nutritionally speaking, even a single cigarette that is smoked robs the body of 25mg of vitamin C, the amount that is available in one orange. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps keep disease at bay. Smoking also accelerates free radical production that damages tissues and organs. And because smokers have less vitamin C at their disposal to fight this free radical damage, they are more prone to illness than non-smokers. Smokers are also at a higher risk of osteoporosis because smoking affects the absorption of vitamin D, which is essential for the formation and maintenance of strong bones.
While smoking heavily affects the body’s capacity to absorb nutrients, there are some nutritional habits that may help reduce the craving for nicotine. Here are some tips for smokers:
• Increase the intake of fruits. Have more oranges, apples, papaya and citrus fruit
• Have tomatoes, carrots, celery, beetroot and spinach on a daily basis as a vegetable juice with a dash of lime and olive oil
• Keep well hydrated. Drink a glass of water every hour
• Have at least two servings of low-fat yogurt or buttermilk. Milk products are rich in the vitamin B complex group and this helps prevent nicotine cravings
•Include brown rice and oats in the diet
• Avoid the consumption of caffeine, alcohol and sweets as these increase the need for stimulants like nicotine
• Exercise daily. Walk, jog or visit the gym to get enough of the feel-good hormones that will help you to quit.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com