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    Light Up? Load Up on Antioxidants!

    In most people’s minds, cigarettes are mostly associated with cancer, but did you know smoking also affects your nutrition status?

    Not only does smoking damage cells and clog arteries — thus paving the way for high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease — it also significantly decreases the amount of vitamin C in our body.

    Ironically, smokers need more vitamin C than anyone else since this antioxidant is crucial in repairing the cell damage caused by inhaling all these toxins in the first place!

    Although I am not a proponent of unnecessary supplementation, I suggest all smokers take a vitamin C supplement, as their needs are too high (approximately 2,000 milligrams) to be reached with diet alone.

    Meanwhile, a 2005 study done at Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute found that smoking decreases levels of Vitamin E – another antioxidant — from tissues, making them “particularly vulnerable to attack by toxins and free radicals,” according to researchers.

    Benzo(a)pyrene, a hydrocarbon present in car exhaust fumes as well as cigarettes, depletes vitamin A levels. Not surprisingly, low vitamin A levels are linked to a higher risk for developing emphysema.

    However, supplementing one’s diet with vitamin A (beta-carotene) was shown to actually increase the risk of developing lung cancer by the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) Trial, a massive Finnish study that tracked almost 30,000 male 50 to 69-year-old Finnish smokers for eight years. Results were published in the June 23, 1993 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    In essence, smoking suppresses your immune system and makes you extremely vulnerable to a wide array of illnesses and diseases.

    Although a high fruit and vegetable intake is recommended for everyone, smokers need to be especially aware of their consumption. Whereas five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables are recommended for the average adult, I recommend smokers aim for ten to twelve servings a day.

    Why such a high amount? The antioxidants exclusively found in these two food groups may help partly counteract some of the cell damage caused by cigarette smoking.

    Looking at minerals, smokers should pay special attention to calcium, as the cadmium in cigarettes impairs calcium metabolism, putting them at higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

    Taking supplements does not “balance out” the harm done by continuous cigarette smoking, and, in the case of vitamin A, supplementation is not recommended, despite the depletion smoking causes.

    The best solution, obviously, is to kick the habit. Until then, be mindful of your eating habits and supplement your diet with vitamin C, calcium, and vitamin E to give your immune system a small boost while it’s attacked by toxic puffs of smoke.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Fiber

    Since fiber is a carbohydrate, I assume it has 4 calories per gram as regular carbs do. However, since our bodies cannot digest fiber, when product calculate the total calorie content in a serving size, do they count the calories in fiber or do they automatically deduct them because we cannot digest it?

    — Anonymous

    Fiber is actually calorie-free because it is composed of undigestable carbohydrates. Simply put, fiber is not absorbed or digested (hence, it is not considered a true nutrient).

    If you see a food label showing 15 grams of carbohydrates and five grams of fiber in one serving of a given food, those five grams of fiber are not contributing calories and considered separate from the 15 grams.

    Although calorie-free, fiber is plenty useful. Once it hits our large intestine, the bacteria present there ferment it to produce short-chain fatty acids, which help lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation of the colon, stabilize blood sugar, and stimulate the production of antibodies and other disease-fighting cells.

    This is precisely why fiber is so crucial in helping lower the risk of developing certain diseases. Without it, our bacteria are unable to support our immune systems to their full extent.

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