Asthma rates in the developed world have increased markedly in the past 3 decades, and medical researchers are not certain why. Some experts believe part of the reason is a dietary change over time, with more people eating junk and processed foods. Today we review what is known about foods that might worsen or improve asthma.
A French study was published in the journal Thorax at the end of 2016, describing that people who eat cured meat (such as sausage and ham) 4 or more times per week were 76% more likely to report worsening asthma symptoms over the 10-year study compared with people who didn’t eat cured meats.
But some foods might help. A Danish study just published reported that pregnant women who took fish oil supplements during their last trimester delivered children who were 41% less likely to develop asthma.
While much is still not certain about which specific foods are good or bad for asthma, here is a summary of what the best medical evidence shows:
Foods that improve asthma
1) Vitamin D-rich foods
Probably the most important vitamin for asthmatics, People with lung conditions do better when they have higher Vitamin D levels. You can get Vitamin D from foods (such as eggs, cheese, and milk), natural sunlight, or supplements if needed. Many nutritionists suggest Vitamin D supplements for many people, especially the elderly.
2) Foods high in beta-carotene, and Vitamins C and E
The red pigment beta-carotene is found in many colored fruits and vegetables including carrots, mangoes, papaya, pumpkin, sweet potato, and spinach. In the body, it is converted to Vitamin A. Along with Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene is a strong antioxidant that decreases lung inflammation and swelling.
3) Eat Magnesium-rich foods
Higher magnesium intake is associated with better lung function. Good sources include spinach, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and salmon.
4) Eat foods with lots of omega-3
The Danish study is just one to show the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on lung function, probably because of it’s anti-inflammatory properties. Good sources include seeds and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna However, as many of us don’t eat as fish as often as we might like, daily fish oil supplements might be wise.
Foods that worsen asthma
1) Anything with trans fat
Trans fat is found in some margarine and in many packaged bakery products, salty or sweet. If you have asthma, check the label of any packaged food and if the trans fat content is not 0%, don’t buy it. Trans fat may also be in products you buy at the bakery, without nutritional labels. In this case, you might talk to the management of the bakery, and voice your concern about possible trans fat.
2) Processed foods, especially cured meats
The French study above confirms this, and previous research suggests the same. Likely the chemicals added to these foods as preservatives that are at fault.
3) Sulfite and other preservatives
Sulfites are commonly found in wines, dried fruits, and some pickled products. Check the label to find ones that are sulfite-free. In general, minimize your intake of added chemicals, preservatives, colorings, and flavorings.
4) Any food you are allergic to
Many people with asthma have no food allergies but others have true food allergies that will trigger asthma attacks.
5) Foods that make a lot of gas, or worsens acid reflux
For some, extra intestinal gas can push upward on their diaphragm triggering more asthma attacks. Many asthmatics also have acid reflux, and acid washing up into the upper esophagus can trigger asthma. Avoid any foods that trigger your reflux, and avoid eating for at least 2 hours before bedtime.
It is well established that obesity makes asthma (and many other lung conditions) worse, so maintaining a healthy weight is important. A Mediterranean diet, especially, can help you control your weight and lessen asthma attacks.
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