Having two children with severe asthma is likely to start you on the hunt for things that contribute to their breathing difficulties, hoping to find ways to improve their breathing. While many of us know a few of the main asthma triggers — smoke, dust, pollen, and mold —some people fail to consider how foods may be affecting the disease process.
Foods you may want to consider avoiding:
Processed and fast foods can be highly inflammatory. These can include refined carbohydrates, sodas, red meats, and unhealthy fats like lard or margarine. When your body is already dealing with the inflammation of asthma, the last thing you want to add is an extra trigger for inflammation. These foods often lead to weight gain, which is also hard on your lungs, heart, and other organs.
If you have food allergies and asthma, you need to be extra careful to avoid those foods your physician has found you to be allergic to (through testing or through previous reaction). Even a mild food reaction can compound breathing issues when you have asthma. Talk with your doctor about whether you should be carrying an EpiPen and always keep your rescue inhaler handy.
Some foods that are not inherently bad can cause inflammation for certain people. In most instances, those foods are part of the nightshade family which includes: tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers. While these foods can be incorporated in a healthy diet for most people, it might be worth trying a six-week elimination diet to see if they are bothering your breathing. If you don’t see a change, you can always add them back into your food repertoire.
Foods you may want to add to decrease inflammation:
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies should be eaten every day with the American Dietetic Association recommending a minimum of five servings per day. The more colorful your foods are, the more varied are their nutrients. Those vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (some we may not even know about yet) seem to work in an anti-inflammatory way in the body. Buy organic whenever possible or at least try to buy the “dirty dozen” (those produce options that tend to have the most chemical residue) in their organic counterparts. We haves seen that chemical residue may lead to inflammation or reactions in our asthmatics.
For years we have avoided fat like the plague. But the truth is that research has shown healthy fats prolong life and reduce inflammation in the body. Some of those fats include avocado, olive oils, nuts, seeds, and nut or seed butters. Fatty fish like salmon are also full of healthy fat. Some physicians recommend a fish-oil supplement, but talk with your doctor first — supplements can react with medications or cause allergic reactions.
Ok, so water isn’t exactly a food but it should be a huge part of what you ingest during the day. Adequate hydration helps thin mucous membranes, which improves airflow in people with asthma. Aim to get at least half your body weight in ounces per day.
Now that you know what to eat and what to avoid, don’t forget to keep a food journal! It can be key in establishing patterns for foods that might be triggering your asthma.
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.