8 Foods That May Help Relieve Asthma Symptoms
Can diet help your asthma? Research suggests eating an overall healthy, balanced diet can help. These foods are part of that diet.
While there’s no magic-bullet food to cure asthma, making some changes in your diet may help reduce or control asthma symptoms.
In general, a healthy, varied diet plan is beneficial with asthma, says Holly Prehn, RD, a certified nutrition support clinician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver.
According to a review about the role of food in asthma management published in November 2017 in Nutrients, there is evidence that a traditional Western diet — which is high in refined grains, red meat, processed meat, and sweets — can increase inflammation and worsen asthma symptoms, while a diet filled with more fruits and vegetables can positively impact both asthma risk and control.
“Diets rich in fruits and vegetables, as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (particularly omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA]), and lower in added sugars and processed and red meats tend to be better for asthma management,” says Kelly Jones, RD, CSSD, owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition based in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
The Mediterranean diet, one based on eating plenty of healthy fats (like olive oil), fish, whole grains, and fruit, fits the bill, she says. And there is some preliminary evidence to suggest that following this diet may indeed be linked to lower rates of asthma, according to a study of Peruvian children published in the December 2015 issue of Lung.
It’s worth noting that certain foods may also worsen your symptoms. Elizabeth Secord, MD, a pediatrician with a specialty in allergy and immunology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, recommends keeping a food log to better understand the link between your diet and your symptoms. For example, you might notice that spicy foods trigger reflux symptoms similar to asthma symptoms.
Finally, when talking about diet and asthma, being overweight or obese should be part of the conversation, Dr. Secord says. Some data, for instance, suggests people who are obese may not respond as well to standard dosing for asthma treatment, according to a review published in November 2014 in Experimental Biology and Medicine.
There is evidence, according to the Nutrients review, that obesity is linked to worse asthma outcomes, and there is preliminary evidence that for people with asthma who are overweight or obese, losing weight might help lessen asthma symptoms. Research published in January 2015 in Annals of the American Thoracic Society found moderately and severely obese adults with uncontrolled asthma who lost 10 percent or more of their body weight saw significantly improvements in asthma control.
And remember, while dietary changes can help you manage asthma symptoms and may lessen the severity of symptoms you have, no diet should substitute for medications or other treatment your doctor has prescribed to help manage your asthma. Dietary changes alone cannot cure or reverse asthma. So what should you eat? Read on for eight specific foods to include in an asthma-friendly diet.
Apples and Oranges
If you’re looking to alleviate asthma symptoms, start by adding more fruit to your diet, Prehn says. Fruit is a good source of beta carotene and vitamins C and E, which can reduce inflammation and swelling in the lungs, according to Mayo Clinic.
The 2017 Nutrients review noted the reason that fruit has this effect isn’t known, but it seems apples and citrus fruits (including oranges) specifically have been shown to decrease asthma risk and symptoms. Eating two servings of fruit (plus five or more servings of vegetables) per day for two weeks led to better asthma control than consuming fewer servings, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
When it comes to asthma, not all fat is created equal. Jones says monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, can be helpful. For example, kids who ate more butter and fast food were also more likely to have asthma, according to a September 2015 study in BMC Public Health.
Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are associated with a reduction in inflammation in people with asthma, according to a study published in January 2015 Allergology International. And fatty fish, like salmon, is chock full of good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids.
“Fatty fish does have an anti-inflammatory role due to the omega-3 EPA content,” Jones says. EPA, one type of omega-3, has an edge over the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another type of omega-3 found in some plant-based sources, such as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds. The body must convert ALA into to EPA and often does not do so efficiently, she says.
Plus, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), salmon is one of the best sources of vitamin D, with 71 percent of your daily value in a 3-ounce serving. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI), maintaining vitamin D levels may help with asthma symptoms.
A healthy gut microbiome could go a long way in reducing asthma and other autoimmune disorders. There is evidence that high-fiber foods promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria associated with lower risk of inflammatory disorders, including asthma, according to a review published in the May 2016 issue of Clinical and Translational Immunology.
Since beans contain prebiotics, or the “food” your gut bacteria needs to thrive, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recommends eating ½ cup every day.
Ginger can do more than quell an upset stomach — it may also help relieve asthma symptoms. That’s because certain components in ginger might help relax the airways, according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology.
Karen Smith, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and diabetes expert with the Physicians Committee and Barnard Medical Center in Washington, DC, recommends adding some fresh ginger root to a vegetable stir-fry served over wild rice. This way, you’ll get the benefits of ginger and the nutrients and fiber from rice, she says.
Famous for its bright yellow hue, turmeric is a staple of Indian cuisine and has been widely used in traditional Chinese and East Asian medicine traditions for respiratory and other disorders, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family.
Research suggests turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, may help quell the inflammation in asthmatic airways, according to a study done in mice and published in the journal Inflammation. Though NCCIH notes more evidence is needed to conclusively determine the potential health benefits of turmeric.
Leafy greens like spinach are packed with vitamins and minerals, but they also contain folate (a B vitamin), according to the NIH. Folate could be especially important for people with asthma. In a study published in February 2016 in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, researchers found that kids who didn’t get enough folate and vitamin D were nearly 8 times more likely to experience one or more severe asthma attacks than kids who ate enough of both nutrients.7
These seedy fruits aren’t easy to open, but the effort will pay off: Pomegranates offer a healthy dose of antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation in the lungs. According to the 2017 review in Nutrients, fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants can help lower inflammation in the airways.
Jones says it’s smart to fill your diet with antioxidant-rich foods, like pomegranates. Pomegranate juice may also help. A study published in BMC Research Notes conducted in animals found a link between pomegranate juice and lower amounts of lung tissue damage.
Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants and low in calories — which makes them a worthy addition to your anti-asthma diet. But there’s more: Tomato juice may also help your airways relax, according to a study done in animals and published in the July 2016 issue of PLoS One. The 2017 Nutrients review also cited previous research that found tomato juice, which contains the antioxidant lycopene, helped adults with asthma free up the airways after one week of consumption.