QUITTING nicotine is hard, there’s no denying that.
Up to 10 million people in the UK are nicotine dependent, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Statistics from 2021 estimate up to 6.6 million adults smoke, and 3.2 million vape – but some may be doing both simultaneously.
Nicotine is not the ingredient in cigarettes that is harmful, but rather the hundreds of chemicals in the tobacco.
The action of nicotine in the brain can affect short-term brain functions, narrow the blood vessels, drive up blood pressure and heart rate.
The brain gets addicted to the effects of nicotine and that’s what keeps a person hooked on harmful vices.
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Whether it’s tobacco or vapes – of which the disposable type look to be banned any time soon – there are a number of tools you can use to get off nicotine.
Patches and gum are among the most popular. But have you ever considered your diet?
Nicotine is a naturally produced alkaloid and stimulant found in the Solanaceae, also known as the nightshade family of plants.
Tobacco is part of the nightshade family, as well as tomatoes and aubergine.
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That means there are small doses of nicotine in common fruits and vegetables Brits eat every day.
There’s no evidence that these foods can help with those instant cravings experienced when trying to quit.
But a lot of the foods are fruits or vegetables – an essential part of the diet, especially if you’re trying to kick the smoking habit.
A study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research of 1,000 smokers found that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to have stayed smoke-free for at least 30 days than those who ate the least.
What’s more, quitting smoking is linked with increased appetite and weight gain.
So it’s a good idea to fend off the cravings with lower-calorie fruit and vegetable snacks.
Markus Lindblad, from vape-selling website Haypp, says: “Whilst nicotine is naturally present in fruit, vegetables and other foods that we eat on a daily basis, the levels are extremely small, so there is no way you can become addicted to them.
“When you consume these foods, the tiny concentrations of nicotine travel through your intestines and your body easily digests it.
“In comparison, nicotine products (such as nicotine pouches) have much larger amounts of nicotine which get absorbed into the bloodstream.
“Nicotine found in nightshade plants and other foods is measured in micrograms (µg). One million µg equals one gram, so the levels are minimal.
“However, it's good for people to have an understanding of what nicotine is and where it can be found. Maybe especially interesting for nicotine pouch and vape users.”
Markus weighs in on the fruits, vegetables and other everyday foods where nicotine can be found.
Markus says: “One of the everyday foods that contain nicotine, often found in vegetarian dishes, is the aubergine.
“The aubergine is in fact a large plant of the nightshade family and for every gram of the much-loved fruit you’ll find it contains a surprising 100 µg of nicotine.”
You would need to eat 10kg of aubergine to consume the same nicotine as a cigarette, however.
“That would be a pretty large moussaka!”
Brits love to bulk out a meal with a potato.
“On average, a potato can contain about 15 µg/gram of nicotine,” Markus said.
“Ripening and green potatoes contain a higher concentration of nicotine (about 42 µg/gram), but thankfully this is when they are less likely to be consumed.
“However, if you decide to mash your potatoes or puree them, the nicotine concentration can increase up to 52 µg/gram.”
Markus said one of the most surprising everyday foods that contains nicotine is cauliflower.
“Although cauliflowers are actually not in the nightshade plant family, they still contain around 16.8 µg/gram of nicotine,” he said.
4. Green peppers
Green peppers are easy to throw into pastas, curries and salads.
“It might only be a small amount, but everyday green peppers can contain anywhere between 7.7 to 9.2 µg/gram of nicotine,” Markus said.
Tomatoes are a key nightshade food.
“Whilst unripened tomatoes tend to contain a higher concentration of nicotine, as they ripen the concentration does tend to drop,” Markus said.
“An average tomato you will find in the supermarket is likely to contain around 7.1 µg/gram of nicotine.”
An adored drink across the UK, tea is also part of the nightshade family.
“Some brewed and instant teas (both black and green) can contain nicotine,” Markus said.
“Usually, the concentration of nicotine in teas ranges from between 100 to 285 µg/gram, so again, you would need to drink a lot of brews to feel any kind of effect from it.”
What to steer clear of…
The study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research looked at the diets of those who found it harder to quit smoking.
It found that meat products, coffee and alcohol made cigarettes taste better.
Therefore, consuming these things could remind you of smoking, and risk you having a relapse.
It’s worth thinking about things you associate with a cigarette. For example, a morning coffee and cigarette is a popular pairing.
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Therefore, swapping your coffee for something else, such as green tea, may help create a new, healthier habit.
According to the American Cancer Society, spicy and sugary foods tend to make people crave cigarettes even more.
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