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The surprising relationship between smoking and eating

By: Alexandra Lesniak



Scientists have recently discovered an interesting relationship between smoking and eating. Smokers actually avoid certain foods and beverages and this may be because certain flavors negatively influence the taste of cigarettes. As shown by a study conducted at Duke University, smokers reported that the food and beverage groups that worsened the taste of cigarettes were (unfortunately) healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, non-caffeinated beverages, and dairy products. Along with a decrease in consumption of healthy foods, cigarette smokers do not get enough important nutrients from the food they consume such as vitamins C, D, and calcium because nicotine blocks the absorption of these nutrients into the body. Therefore, smokers not only want to consume an unhealthy diet but do not get the proper nutrients from the good foods they eat.


Research has also shown that healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, milk and other dairy products, sugar-free gum and mints, and ginseng tea can reduce the craving to smoke. These healthy foods may help to decrease nicotine intake, may taste better during smoking abstinence,, and can help to implement a healthier lifestyle once a smoker decides to quit. 

Practical tip: Eat a piece of cheese to decrease your cigarette cravings.

In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing the amount of milk and other dairy products to the diet may curb cigarette cravings. In various studies, smokers have reported that dairy products make their cigarettes taste worse by producing a bitter aftertaste.  So, when craving a cigarette, the smoker could choose a piece of cheese or a glass of milk, which may deter the smoker from having a cigarette.


Practical tip: Drink ginseng tea to decrease your cigarette cravings.

Another beverage that may aid in the quest to quit smoking is ginseng tea. Research shows that the tea weakens the effects of dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with feelings of pleasure) that is released when you smoke cigarettes or use other nicotine products. Drinking ginseng tea on a regular basis may decrease the pleasure felt when smoking, which in turn, could reduce how often and how much is smoked. 

Practical tip: Chew gum to decrease your cigarette cravings.

The longing to smoke a cigarette may come from the body’s muscle memory. In this case, sugar-free gum or mints can help keep your mouth busy to assist in replacing this habit. Gum and mints can even last longer than it would take to smoke a cigarette which may help hold off the craving.  


In trying to quit smoking, knowing what foods to avoid is half of the battle. Various food and beverage groups have been shown to enhance the taste of cigarettes. In a recent study, the relationship between smoking status and specific type of food craving was assessed. Compared to individuals who never smoked, current smokers reported that they experienced more cravings for foods with high-fat content as well as fast foods.  Current smokers also gave into the temptation of consuming these foods at a higher frequency than non-smokers. The results of the study showed that smoking cigarettes was not the only influencing factor in food consumption as stress and depression also played a role. However, stress and depression may have accounted for the higher dependency on the relationship between food cravings and cigarette consumption. General food cravings and cravings for foods with high-fat content (sweets, carbohydrates, and starches) positively correlated with nicotine dependence. That is, the more a participant smoked, the higher the number of cravings they experienced.  An applicable take away from the study was that cigarette smokers, particularly those with greater nicotine dependence, may additionally have issues in regulating food choices and curbing cravings for unhealthy foods. This was especially true in the context of participants with depression and stress.

f you or a loved one are trying to quit smoking, some food groups to avoid include:

  • Caffeinated drinks

  • Alcohol

  • Sugary foods 

  • Spicy foods 

  • Meat 



Know what to eat and what to avoid when trying to quit smoking. Consider healthier options and foods that provide more nutrients. Know that quitting will be a process and a commitment to change!


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  1.  Chao, A. M., White, M. A., Grilo, C. M., & Sinha, R. (2017). Examining the effects of cigarette smoking on food cravings and intake, depressive symptoms, and stress. Eating behaviors, 24, 61-65.

  2. McClernon, F. J., Westman, E. C., Rose, J. E., & Lutz, A. M. (2007). The effects of foods, beverages, and other factors on cigarette palatability. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9(4), 505-510.

  3. Oliynyk, S., & Oh, S. (2013). Actoprotective effect of ginseng: improving mental and physical performance. Journal of ginseng research, 37(2), 144.

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