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Breathe Easy: The Asthma Diet

I stumbled across this topic by accident the other day: The Asthma Diet. There sure is a diet for everything, isn’t there?

Normally I wouldn’t have glanced twice, but on that particular day it jumped out at me. See, my toddler is following in my footsteps and was just diagnosed with asthma. Actually, he was not diagnosed with asthma. Rather we were told his lungs have “abnormalities consistent with asthma and wheezing.” They weren’t going to officially diagnose it until age 5 so if he grew out of it he wouldn’t have a permanent X in his medical chart. You know, in case he wants to join the Army in a billion years. (Although with the new healthcare reform act, a pre-existing condition may not be an issue any more.)

Anyway, this asthma diet article practically leaped off the page at me. As a dietitian I find comfort in being able to fix something with food. I know food, I get food. If I could solve world peace with food, I would. Actually I might be on to something there — I’m pretty cranky when I’m hungry. Food definitely puts my home at peace.

I eagerly pored through the pages of the article. I still can’t decide whether I’m encouraged or disappointed by this so-called diet. Essentially it said “Eat healthy!”, Fruits, vegetables, healthy fats. The same thing any dietitian would recommend to any individual. But of course I had to look into how these things could help asthma. Sometimes having that little extra encouragement of knowing what you eat, could solve the exact ailment you have, goes a long way.

Ironically the fall is peak asthma season. Not spring when the flowers bloom in abundance or summer when the air is hot and sticky, but fall when colds and viruses start attacking. I know if focusing more on what I’m eating (or not eating) could help me avoid the inability to catch my breath or double over in a coughing fit on an outdoor run during these beautifully cool days, I’d be game.

So here are 8 things to eat — or not eat — to make your lungs feel and work better. Maybe.

  • Asthma Diet 1 of 9
    allergy-life

    Asthma is a disease of inflamed airways. The tiny tubes in the lungs swell with inflammation and block air flow. The logic behind the "asthma diet" is to keep inflammation at bay and thus prevent an attack. These foods can help do just that.

  • Avoid Foods That Trigger Heartburn 2 of 9
    iStock_000002375841XSmall

    70% of people that have asthma also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a severe form of heartburn. Avoiding foods that worsen heartburn may also help with asthma systems. Avoid foods like peppermint, citrus juices, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, and onions. 

  • Up Your Grain Intake 3 of 9
    quinoa

    In an anti-gluten and wheat world, this recommendation stands out. Results from the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood showed that those who got more calories and protein from grains like cereal and rice as opposed to meat were less likely to have the wheezing that's associated with asthma.

  • Chow Down on Fruits and Veggies 4 of 9
    blender

    No surprise here that eating fruits and vegetables can help keep you healthy. When it comes to preventing or decreasing asthma symptoms, it's the role fruits and vegetables play in boosting our immune system that's key. As we continue to become a more hygiene-focused society with an abundance of antibacterial soaps and vaccines for just about everything, our immune systems don't have to work as hard. Instead of producing the disease-fighting T1 helper cells, our immune systems start producing T2 helper cells instead. The T2 cells are responsible for inflammation. The vitamins and antioxidants in fruits and veggies can help repair and minimize this damage. Apples in particular are one fruit of note when it comes to reducing the occurrence of asthma. It's speculated that a compound called khellin in apples can help improve air flow in the lungs. You'd need to eat two to five apples a week to reap the benefits.

  • Ditch the Trans Fats 5 of 9
    cake1

    You've probably heard this bit of dietary advice before, but avoiding trans fats can help promote lung health. Trans fats cause the body to produce chemicals like prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These chemicals can cause — you guessed it — inflammation. Trans fat can be sneaky, but just look for any form of the word "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on the ingredient list. That's code for trans fat.

  • Milk Does a Body (with Asthma) Good 6 of 9
    iStock_000005842177XSmall

    This one surprised me since milk is often a no-no when you have a cold, as it's a popular belief that it increases mucus production. Studies in New Zealand and England showed that the calcium and magnesium in milk helped ward off asthma. The studies showed that people who consumed more calcium from food wheezed less and that those who had a magnesium intake of 100 mg higher than the norm had better airflow in their lungs.

  • Feast on Fish 7 of 9
    fish-oil

    Omega-3s for the win. An Australian study revealed that populations that consume the most seafood have lower incidences of asthma. Those that ate fish with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in salmon and anchovies, were 75% less likely to have asthma. Other research reports show that fish oil supplements may help reduce the symptoms of asthma. Walnuts and canola oil are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Say No to Sulfites 8 of 9
    iStock_000000278431XSmall

    Sulfites are used as preservative in many foods, most typically dried fruits, wine, pickles, baked goods, and shrimp. Luckily sulfites aren't frequently used on fresh produce anymore, meaning you can chow down on the recommended fruits and vegetables without worry. Not everyone is sensitive to sulfites, but for those that are, they could also trigger asthma symptoms. Look for variations of the letter grouping "sulf" on food labels to detect the use of sulfites, such as sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, or sodium bisulfite.

  • Minimize Corn, Sunflower, and Safflower Oils 9 of 9
    iStock_000009057227XSmall

    Eat less! These oils often used in processed goods like cookies and chips are high in omega-6 fatty acids. When the amount of omega-6s consumed greatly outweighs the amount of omega-3s the body is prone to inflammation, which makes asthma worse. Too much omega-6 causes the body to produce cytokines, which make the lungs more sensitive to irritants like dust and dander. Try canola or olive oil instead.

Photo credits: iStockPhoto

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