If you have asthma, you may be curious about whether certain food and diet choices could help you manage your condition. There’s no conclusive evidence that a specific diet has an effect on the frequency or severity of asthma attacks. At the same time, eating fresh, nutritious foods may improve your overall health as well as your asthma symptoms.
Asthma causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs known as the bronchial tubes. During an asthma attack, the bronchial tubes swell. The muscles around them also tighten. This makes it hard for air to move through the lungs. The result is asthma symptoms such as:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
According to a research review in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, a shift from eating fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables, to processed foods may be linked to an increase in asthma cases in recent decades. Although more study is needed, early evidence suggests that there’s no single food or nutrient that improves asthma symptoms on its own. Instead, people with asthma may benefit from eating a well-rounded diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Food also comes into play as it relates to allergies. Food allergies and food intolerances occur when your immune system overreacts to specific proteins in foods. In some cases, this can result in asthma symptoms.
Asthma and Obesity
An American Thoracic Society report notes that obesity is a major risk factor for developing asthma. In addition, asthma in people who are obese may be more severe and more difficult to treat. Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight may make it easier to manage your condition.
Foods to Add to Your Diet
- Vitamin D-rich foods, such as milk and eggs
- Beta carotene-rich vegetables, such as carrots and leafy greens
- Magnesium-rich foods, such as spinach and pumpkin seeds
There’s no specific diet recommended for asthma, but there are some nutrients and foods that may help support lung function:
- Getting enough vitamin D may help reduce the number of asthma attacks in children age 6-15, according to the Vitamin D Council. Sources of vitamin D include salmon, milk, fortified milk, fortified orange juice, and eggs.
- A study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found women with asthma who consumed higher levels of beta carotene, a form of vitamin A, had a better quality of life. Good sources of beta carotene are carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, and spinach.
- An apple a day may keep asthma away. According to a research review in Nutrition Journal, apples were associated with a lower risk of asthma and increased lung function.
- A survey published in the European Respiratory Journal found that bananas might decrease wheezing due to asthma in children. This may be due to the fruit’s antioxidant and potassium content, which may improve lung function.
- A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that children age 11-19 who had low magnesium levels also had low lung flow and volume. Kids can improve their magnesium levels by eating magnesium-rich foods like spinach, pumpkin seeds, chard, dark chocolate, and salmon.
Foods to Avoid
- Sulfites, which are found in wine and dried fruits
- Foods that can cause gas, including beans, cabbage, and onions
- Artificial ingredients, such as chemical preservatives or other flavorings
Some foods may trigger asthma symptoms and should be avoided:
- Sulfites are a type of preservative that may worsen asthma. Sulfites are found in wine, dried fruits, pickled food, maraschino cherries, shrimp, and bottled lemon and lime juice.
- Eating large meals or foods that cause gas puts pressure on your diaphragm, especially if you have acid reflux. This may cause chest tightness and trigger asthma flares. These foods include beans, cabbage, carbonated drinks, onions, garlic, and fried foods.
- Although it’s rare, some people with asthma may be sensitive to salicylates found in coffee, tea, and some herbs and spices.
- Chemical preservatives, flavorings, and colorings are often found in processed and fast food. Some people with asthma may be sensitive or allergic to these artificial ingredients.
- People with food allergies may also have asthma. Dairy products, shellfish, wheat, and tree nuts are among the most common allergens.
It’s best to consult your doctor before you start avoiding certain foods.
Most doctors recommend an overall healthy lifestyle to help you manage your condition. This can include eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Diet and lifestyle changes are meant to complement your existing asthma treatment. You shouldn’t stop using prescribed asthma medications without consulting your doctor, even if you begin to feel better.
Traditional asthma treatments may include:
- inhaled corticosteroids
- oral leukotriene modifiers
- long-acting beta antagonists
- combination inhalers
- fast-acting rescue medications
- allergy medications
- allergy shots
- bronchial thermoplasty, which is used for severe asthma cases that don’t respond to medication
Preventing Asthma Symptoms from Worsening
When it comes to controlling asthma symptoms, prevention can go a long way. Since asthma may be life-threatening, it’s critical to identify your triggers and avoid them.
Tobacco smoke is an asthma trigger for many people. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting. If someone in your household smokes, talk to them about quitting. In the meantime, make sure they smoke outdoors.
You can take more steps that may help prevent asthma attacks if you:
- Create an asthma action plan with your doctor and follow it.
- Get a pneumonia and flu shot each year to avoid illnesses that could trigger asthma attacks.
- Take your asthma medications as prescribed.
- Track your asthma and monitor your breathing to identify early warning signs that your asthma is worsening.
- Use an air conditioner to reduce your exposure to dust mites and outdoor pollutants and allergens such as pollen.
- Use dust covers on your bed and pillows to reduce dust exposure.
- Reduce pet dander by regularly grooming and bathing your pets.
- Cover your nose and mouth when spending time outside in the cold
- Use a humidifier or dehumidifier to keep humidity in your home at optimal levels.
- Clean your house regularly to eliminate mold spores and other indoor allergens.
Eating a healthier diet may improve your asthma symptoms, but it depends on many factors. For example, the overall impact may depend on your general health, how consistent you are in making changes, and the severity of your symptoms. At the very least, most people who start following a healthier diet usually notice improved energy levels. Having a healthier diet may also lead to:
- weight loss
- lower blood pressure
- lower cholesterol
- improved digestion