It’s springtime — the season of runny noses and itchy eyes. Consider adding these foods to your diet to lessen your irritating symptoms.
By Alexandra Sifferlin March 29, 2012
When it comes to keeping the sniffles of seasonal allergies at bay, maintaining a healthy diet is one of your first lines of defense, says Mike Tringale, vice president of external affairs of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “The best way to manage allergies is first and foremost to work with your doctor to get you on the best treatments out there. The sad news is there is no cure. A seasonal allergy is a genetic disease of the immune system. But even before you think about medications, it is really critical that you go into allergy season with a healthy diet,” says Tringale.
Studies show that a diet high in antioxidants and omega-3s can ease seasonal allergy suffering. A 2007 study found that children from the Greek island of Crete who ate a Mediterranean diet — high in fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and nuts — were less likely to develop allergy and asthma symptoms. “Allergies cause inflammation of the tissues lining the nose and throat. Finding foods that decrease inflammation will lead to relief,” Tringale says.
Nuts are one good choice. They’re a healthy snack and are high in magnesium and vitamin E. Magnesium protects against the wheezing that accompanies asthma, and vitamin E boosts immunity while simultaneously protecting the body from free radicals, which cause tissue damage and inflammation. “Most tree nuts, like walnuts and pecans, do the trick. Nuts also come with a lot of fat,” however, cautions Tringale, so don’t go overboard, especially if you’re battling your weight.
An apple a day helps keep your allergies away. In the Crete diet study, researchers found that people whose diets incorporated apples as a staple had greater protection against both allergies and asthma. Apples are rich in quercetin — a flavonoid with anti-inflammatory properties. Much of the benefits come from the peels, which are also packed with antioxidants called polyphenols, which prevent cellular damage.
Another 2007 study found that pregnant women who ate apples reduced the risk of their children developing asthma. Researchers looked at the eating habits of women during pregnancy and, later, their children’s reported allergies. Kids whose moms ate the most apples during pregnancy were less likely to report wheezing or to have doctor-confirmed asthma at age 5, compared with kids whose moms ate few apples.
Snacking regularly on apples, or other healthful foods high in antioxidants, may help prevent wheezing in adolescence too. Dr. Jane Burns of the Harvard School of Public Health studied the relationship between poor diet and respiratory symptoms and said in a statement, “Our study, as well as other research, suggests that higher intakes of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory micronutrients are associated with lower reports of cough, respiratory infections, and less severe asthma-related symptoms.”
Omega-3 fatty acids in seafood have natural anti-inflammatory effects that boost the immune system — and most allergies happen when your immune system is out of whack, according to Dr. William Sears, author of the upcoming book, The Omega-3 Effect.
“If you were to come into my office with seasonal allergies and say to me, ‘Dr. Bill, I would like the best and safest medicine for my allergies,’ I would surprise you by scribbling on prescription pad, ‘Eat 6 ounces of Alaskan salmon twice a week,’” says Dr. Sears.
According to Dr. Sears, patients frequently complain about dry skin and eczema during the allergy season, and fish can alleviate those irritations. “All the ‘itises’ — dermatitis, bronchitis, arthritis, colitis — all of them are made better by the more seafood you eat,” says Dr. Sears. “Because omega-3s have total anti-inflammatory effects, sometimes people will notice that when I treat them with fish, their skin is softer and their asthma is better.”
In the same 2007 study looking at pregnant women and apple consumption, researchers found that moms who ate fish during pregnancy reduced the risk of their children developing asthma or allergic diseases. The kids whose moms ate fish one or more times a week were less likely to have eczema than children of mothers who never ate fish.
Dr. Sears’ top 3 fish picks:
- Wild Alaskan salmon: “This is my top pick because it has the most nutrients, with the least amount of pollutants, that are best for allergies,” he says.
- Alaskan tuna: Dr. Sears recommends Alaskan seafood because it is well policed and regulated. (Tuna is high in mercury, however, which means that certain at-risk groups, like pregnant women and children should limit consumption.)
- Anchovies and sardines
If you’re not a fish fan, you can try omega-3 and algae supplements or fish oil to boost your allergy defenses.
The skin of red grapes is high in antioxidants and resveratrol — an anti-inflammatory compound. Eating foods high in antioxidants can reduce inflammation in your entire body. According to Tringale, antioxidants protect cells from the oxidative damage that causes diseases, and they have immune-boosting compounds. Other foods high in antioxidants include berries, legumes and potatoes. “Vegetarians are in good luck,” says Tringale.
WebMD reports that grapes contain flavonoids that can also lower the bad cholesterol levels and relax blood vessels. Grape leaves are also known to reduce inflammation and draw tissues together. When choosing grapes, go for the red variety — they have more antioxidants than white or blush grapes.
“Fruity vegetables” like tomatoes are high in vitamin C and a good choice for the sneezing season. Studies show tomatoes can build your tolerance against asthma and respiratory issues. Vitamin C is an immune system booster and natural antihistamine, which suppresses swelling.
The antioxidant compound lycopene in tomatoes is also good for the body. A study from the University of Tel Aviv found that men who added 30 milligrams of lycopene to their daily diets improved their bodies’ ability to fight off asthma attacks by 45%. You can get lycopene not only from whole tomatoes, but also from tomato sauce and extract. “The added protection may come from lycopene’s antioxidative properties within the body,” study author Dr. A. Ben-Amotz, told ABC News.
Other “fruity vegetables,” aside from tomatoes, are also key: in a seven-year Spanish study, children who consumed more than 40 grams of fruity veggies a day — including eggplants, cucumber, green beans and zucchini — were much less likely to suffer from childhood asthma than those who ate less.