For those who suffer from allergies, spring and fall can mean misery from runny noses, sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing and sore throats. Seasonal allergies are rampant: About 50 million Americans suffer from them (for more on allergies, check out my posting “Sneezes and Wheezes: Seasonal Allergies and Diabetes”). And for many, allergy symptoms continue throughout the year or with every change of season.
Foods that fight seasonal allergies
If you’re “allergic” to certain seasons, chances are, you’ve taken steps to manage it — keeping your windows shut, using a dehumidifier, exercising when pollen counts are low, and taking medication (over-the-counter or prescription). Maybe you’ve even decided to get allergy shots. All of these approaches can definitely help, and you might talk with your healthcare provider (if you haven’t done so already) about options that are best for you.
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Interestingly, your food choices can have an impact on your allergies, too. No, not food allergies (that’s a whole other topic), but rather, foods that can help you better manage your seasonal allergic symptoms. Some research shows that certain foods have the ability to fight inflammation and provide other forms of relief. Keep in mind that eating these foods aren’t a guarantee that you won’t be reaching for the Kleenex, but they certainly may help. And these are foods that are healthful, overall — they have other nutritional benefits that can help you manage your diabetes, lower your cholesterol, and more.
Apples…and berries, onions, cauliflower, and cabbage
Evidence about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables keeps building. In terms of seasonal allergies, the key “ingredient” in produce is quercetin. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid (a natural substance found in plants) that can help block the release of histamines, chemicals that are launched when your immune system is exposed to allergens, such as pollen or mold. Histamines are the troublemakers that cause runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing and more.
Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that can help the absorption of quercetin (see above). And bromelain may reduce inflammation linked with asthma. For the best results, eat pineapple with a food rich in quercetin at the same time.
Turmeric is a bright golden spice that lends color and flavor to Indian curries and yellow mustard. This spice is filled with anti-inflammatory substances, including curcumin. Like the foods mentioned above, curcumin has the ability to block the release of histamines. Try mixing turmeric into everyday dishes, such as eggs, tuna or chicken salad, soups and smoothies. You can even sip on “turmeric tea.” Check out the recipe here.
Kiwifruit…and papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts
Back to fruits and vegetables. These yummy foods are high in vitamin C, an antioxidant that may reduce allergy symptoms. While it’s always best to try and get your nutrients from food sources, taking a vitamin C supplement might be a good idea. (But chat with your doctor or dietitian about this first.)
Salmon…and tuna, mackerel, and sardines
Good news for fish lovers: The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of developing hay fever. Aim for at least two servings of fish each week. Not a fish fan? You can get omega-3s in walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseed, too.
Yogurt…and kefir, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut
Eating foods that contain probiotics is all the rage. Chalk another health benefit up to probiotics: They might help fight season allergies. In one study, people who ate 7 ounces of yogurt every day for a year had fewer allergy symptoms than non-yogurt eaters. Make sure your yogurt contains active cultures, and limit fruit yogurt and kefir, as they may contain sugar that can throw off your blood sugars.
Almonds…and cashews, pumpkin seeds, and oatmeal
These foods are rich in magnesium, an essential mineral that dilates the airways (so you breathe easier) and fights histamine release.
Green tea, like many of the other foods mentioned above, contains natural antihistamines that may ease some of your allergy woes. Don’t forget that green tea may help you fight off heart disease and some types of cancer at the same time.
A few words of caution
There’s little doubt that fruits and vegetables are bursting with good nutrition. However, when it comes to seasonal allergies, there are some folks who may have (or develop) something called oral allergy syndrome. This occurs from eating foods that contain profilins, types of protein that may cause itchiness, swelling and blisters in the mouth and throat. It’s thought to be a cross-reactivity to certain types of pollen, such as birch, grass and ragweed. Foods that contain profilins include kiwi, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, green peppers, and certain types of nuts. Let your doctor know if you experience any symptoms after eating these foods. Also, if you’re allergic to ragweed or other types of weed pollen, you might want to avoid (or at least limit) bananas, sunflower seeds, melon, cucumber and chamomile. These foods may worsen your symptoms.
It can be very tempting to pop nutrient supplements, such as vitamin C, magnesium or probiotics, in an effort to prevent allergy symptoms. Taking supplements may or may not provide relief, but apart from that, some supplements have side effects that can be harmful. Always let your doctor know what supplements you’re taking, and don’t take mega-doses of any supplement without first talking it over with your healthcare team.
Take a holistic approach to allergy control
It would be great if eating an apple — or salmon or yogurt — on a regular basis keeps you free of allergy symptoms. But while these foods may help, they may not cause your symptoms to vanish completely. Or they may not do much at all. They definitely won’t stop an allergy attack in its tracks. You probably will need a multi-level approach to allergy management, which may include limiting your exposure to allergens, taking supplements or trying acupuncture, and taking medication.