- Current smokers have diets with a higher energy density, consuming around 200 extra calories a day despite having smaller food quantities.
- Energy density refers to the caloric content per mass of food. Lower energy density diets, generally rich in fruits and vegetables, are advocated by health experts.
- A poor diet, alongside smoking, is one of the top adjustable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- Smokers might opt for high-flavored, energy-dense foods due to a diminished sense of taste and smell.
- While quitting smoking should be the primary goal, dietary modifications can also help manage weight gain during the cessation period and improve overall health.
Aside from the increased risk of illnesses and early demise, people engaged in smoking have another health detriment to grapple with – their diets, according to a recent analysis.
The investigators observed that in comparison to former smokers or those who never touched a cigarette, current smokers have diets with significantly higher energy density. Despite eating markedly lesser quantities of food, smokers ingest approximately 200 additional calories daily.
Understanding Energy Density
Energy density refers to the caloric content of a dish related to its mass. A food with greater energy density delivers more calories in smaller food servings. A cookie, interestingly, is denser in energy than a carrot.
Prevailing health advisories, inclusive of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, advocate the consumption of food with reduced energy density to ward off obesity. Lower energy-density diets generally include more fruits and vegetables, hence making them healthier, as pointed out by the scholars.
Smoking and Poor Diet: A Dangerous Combo
“Alongside smoking, a subpar diet figures in the top three adjustable risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” disclosed the authors of the study. “Our findings hint that smoking is correlated with reduced diet quality,” they concluded.
The study, conducted under the guidance of R. Ross MacLean of Yale University, analyzed information from almost 5,300 U.S adults participating in a national survey about dietary habits and smoking behaviors.
An In-depth Look at the Data
As per the findings, non-smokers consumed about 1.79 calories per gram of food while the value was slightly higher for ex-smokers at 1.84 calories per gram consumed. Daily smokers, however, registered 2.02 calories per gram.
Registered dietitian Samantha Heller suggests that smokers probably don’t intentionally choose to eat poorly.
“Chances are smokers remain oblivious to their diminished taste and smell perception. This can result in a preference for high-flavored foods. Foods laden with sugar, fat, and salt usually taste more appealing while being energy-dense,” Heller elaborated.
Can Smokers Benefit from Healthier Diets?
“Improving the quality of your diet is always advisable, particularly by incorporating more plant-based foods. However, for smokers, this can be especially challenging as healthier foods might not seem as tasty,” Heller noted.
Findings from the study also underscored the role of dietary modifications in preventing weight gain when individuals try to quit smoking.
In discussing the importance of managing weight during smoking cessation programs, Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control for Northwell Health, highlighted that the fear of weight gain poses a significant obstacle for those trying to quit. “Being able to provide a more specific diet strategy would be beneficial in light of these findings,” stated Folan.
However, Heller made it clear that the primary goal should always be quitting smoking. “Abandoning the habit is amongst the best things you can do for your health and the energy spent on smoking can be redirected towards healthier eating habits and physical activity,” she advised.
She further hinted at a pleasant surprise waiting for those who stop smoking. As our sense of taste and smell begin to regain their function, foods once considered palatable may seem overly salted or greasy. “Suddenly, you’ll have the pleasure of truly tasting your food,” she affirmed.
The research findings were published online in BMC Public Health.
To learn more about giving up smoking, visit the American Lung Association.