(CBS News) Move over patches and gums - fruits and vegetables may help smokers quit the habit.
For the study, published in the June 5 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, researchers looked at 1,000 adult smokers aged 25 and older and surveyed them on their smoking and eating habits. Then the smokers were called 14 months later to find out how much they had smoked in the past month.
Previous research suggests that people who quit smoking for less than six months ate more fruits and vegetables than people who still smoked. But the researchers wanted to know If smokers who ate more fruits and vegetables were more likely to kick the habit.
When the researchers followed up 14 months later, they determined that smokers who ate the most fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to be tobacco-free for a full 30 days than smokers who ate the least. The findings persisted even after factoring in the smoker's age, gender, education, household income and race.
"We may have identified a new tool that can help people quit smoking," study author Jeffrey P. Haibach, a graduate research assistant at the University of Buffalo's department of community health and health behavior, said in a news release. "Granted, this is just an observational study, but improving one's diet may facilitate quitting."
The researchers also found that smokers who ate the most fruits and vegetables smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke their first cigarette of the day, and scored lower on a nicotine dependence test the researchers gave.
How can celery help a person give up cigarettes?
The researchers said it might be cause the high fiber taken in from fruits and vegetables make people feel fuller.
"It is also possible that fruits and vegetables give people more of a feeling of satiety or fullness so that they feel less of a need to smoke, since smokers sometimes confuse hunger with an urge to smoke," explained Haibach. He also said meats, caffeinated beverages and alcohol has been known to enhance the taste of tobacco, but fruits and vegetables may actually worsen the taste of cigarettes.
The researchers however caution that since the effect was observational, more work is needed to see if they could replicate the findings in a study.
"It's possible that an improved diet could be an important item to add to the list of measures to help smokers quit," Haibach said. "We certainly need to continue efforts to encourage people to quit and help them succeed, including proven approaches like quitlines, policies such as tobacco tax increases and smoke-free laws, and effective media campaigns."
To find out more about quitting, visit Smokefree.gov.