Diet provides essential nutrients: micronutrients like vitamins and minerals as well as the key macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. You need all micro and also macronutrients, in the right balance. Their role is to provide energy for hundreds of processes that happen in the body and to nourish each and every cell in the body.
More and more studies looking at the role of nutrition in asthma management come to the same conclusion: plant-based foods may help prevent asthma and improve asthma symptoms through decreasing inflammation, free radicals, and supporting immune health. Reduced consumption of red meat, eliminating processed foods, and avoiding excess weight are other important changes that can help a person prevent or manage asthma.
What should you eat if you have asthma?
The research found that daily consumption of fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of developing asthma in both children and adults. In case asthma already developed, the consumption of fruits and veggies correlates with better lung function, reduced risk of wheezing, and less likely to have severe forms of asthma. In one study, the participants with asthma who followed an 8-week plant-based diet experienced a significant reduction in asthma medication use, reduced severity, and frequency of symptoms compared with those who didn’t follow a plant-based diet.
Among fruits, apples and oranges seem to be particularly beneficial. The goal is to incorporate five or more servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits in the daily menu.
Other plant-based foods that are part of the daily diet include grains, legumes, herbs, and spices. Use herbs and spices as much as you would like, and experiment with different ones. Some people report improvements in asthma and allergy symptoms when going gluten-free, so it may be worth following a 4-week gluten-free diet. Some studies also found that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is common and often underdiagnosed in those with allergies. When it comes to legumes, they are best digested when using a pressure cooker or buying them canned. Choose fresh, steamed, or boiled over deep-fried dishes.
Fatty fish, seafood, and lean meats like chicken and turkey are great sources of healthy fats and proteins and should be consumed weekly. Olive oil can be consumed daily on salads and other dishes. Sweets should be consumed sparingly, as treats. Nuts and seeds are great snacks unless a person is allergic to them.
What should you avoid if you have asthma?
- Processed foods. Everyone with asthma can benefit from reducing or even better- eliminating processed foods. Western type diets, which essentially include plenty of fast foods and sugary soda promote inflammation and can aggravate asthma symptoms. Fast foods are high in calories, yet have poor nutrient content and are low in fiber. This combination of high (unhealthy) fats also promotes excess weight, which is a risk factor for asthma.
When it comes to other foods that should be avoided, it is best to get tested for food sensitivities. Food sensitivity (IgG) tests are not 100% accurate but can be used along with a food journal to identify “trigger” foods.
- Some foods are more likely than others to cause allergies and sensitivities and they include: wheat, cow’s dairy, peanuts, soy, corn, and eggs.
- For those with allergies and asthma, histamine rich foods and sulphites are particularly problematic. Histamine rich foods include mature cheese, smoked meats, wine, sauerkraut and other fermented foods and drinks, overripe fruits, leftovers that stay in the fridge for a day or more, strawberries, and more. Sulphites are used as preservatives for packaged foods, dried fruits, processed meats, pickled foods and also found in wine, beer and cider.
- While dairy products are currently considered healthy foods that everyone should consume daily, some researchers believe that this recommendation should be revised. A number of studies found that cow’s milk consumption was associated with more asthma symptoms, decreased lung function right after eating dairy (as measured by FEV1 and FEV1/FVC ) and more inflammation in the body. On the other hand, eliminating dairy and eggs lead to improvement of asthma control and lung function. Luckily there are many alternatives to cow’;s dairy products – from goat, sheep and buffalo dairy which are better tolerated than cow’s milk, to plant based alternatives like almond, coconut and oat milk. These plant based beverages are fortified with iron, calcium and other nutrients to increase their nutrient value relative to cow’s dairy.
Not sure how to change your diet? The most important step is to remove processed foods and sugary drinks. The next step is to add more vegetables and some fruits to your plate and eat foods as close as possible to their natural state. Use the Mediterranean diet and recipes as guidelines, as it is one of the healthiest diets ever created, and has all the foods listed as healthy options above. You can modify based on your own needs (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free). Even better consult a doctor specialized in nutrition to get an individualized nutrition plan and recommend some supplements.