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Smoke or Used to Smoke? The Healthiest Foods to Prevent Lung Cancer and Other Smoker's Diseases


Nearly 21 percent of U.S. adults smoke cigarettes, and countless others have smoked at some point in their life. This habit continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the country, causing about one out of every five deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Quitting smoking -- which 70 percent of smokers hope to do -- is your best option to prevent smoker's diseases.

A top health concern for smokers is lung cancer, of which smoking causes about 90 percent of cases. Your risk of dying from lung cancer is 23 times higher for men who smoke cigarettes and 13 times higher for women compared to non-smokers. Aside from lung cancer, smoking can lead to other forms of cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive lung disease.

The best way to prevent these illnesses, of course, is to quit smoking. But for those who are current or past smokers, there may be a way to reduce some of the harm cigarettes do to your body: make wise food choices.

Which Foods May be Best for Smokers?

New research has emerged that suggests certain compounds in fruits and vegetables can help to counteract some of the damage of smoking.

One study, published in the journal Cancer, found that certain flavonoid compounds including epicatechin, catechin, quercetin, and kaempferol helped to prevent lung cancer in tobacco smokers.

Flavonoids are plant pigments that have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They may help to protect against lung cancer by:

  • Blocking the formation of blood vessels that tumors develop to grow and spread

  • Stopping cancer cells from growing, or allowing cell death to occur

  • Counteracting the DNA-damaging effects of tobacco smoking

Regularly eating fruits and veggies and drinking green and black teas are wise choices for everyone, not just smokers.

Which foods should you eat to get these beneficial flavonoids?

  1. Catechin: Strawberries, green tea, black tea

  2. Kaempferol: Brussels sprouts, apples

  3. Quercetin: Beans, onions, apples

To receive the potential benefits, researchers found that eating three servings of fruits and vegetables per day and drinking green or black tea was useful.

Even More Foods That are Great for Your Lungs ...

Eating foods that are rich in phytoestrogens appears to lower lung cancer risk in both smokers and non-smokers, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Foods rich in phytoestrogens produce a weak estrogen-like activity in the body. The researchers believe the phytoestrogens may protect against lung cancer by latching on to estrogen receptors in both normal and malignant tissue. This binding may play a role in the "regulation or deregulation of cancer growth."

There are three main subcategories of phytoestrogens, so if you'd like to include more of them in your diet, look for:

  • Isoflavones: Soybeans (ideally unprocessed), chickpeas and red clover

  • Lignans: rye grains, linseeds, carrots, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables

  • Coumesterol: bean, peas, clover, spinach and sprouts

Others foods that may also help to keep your lungs healthy include:

  • Papaya, cantaloupe and collard greens: Eating vitamin-A-rich foods like papaya, cantaloupe and collard greens may help to reduce your risk of emphysema, according to research by Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State.

  • Pumpkin, corn, red bell peppers, tangerines, oranges and peaches: These foods are rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, an orange-red carotenoid that has been found to reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Recommended Reading

Marijuana: The Proven Drawbacks on Your Body

Are You Exposed to Dangerous Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and Don't Even Know It?


Cancer. 2008 May 15;112(10):2241-8. June 18, 2008

The World's Healthiest Foods

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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