What to eat and avoid

Some research suggests that certain foods can reduce asthma symptoms, support lung function, and boost the immune system. Some foods may also worsen symptoms or cause a flare-up.

Asthma is a common chronic condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 25 million people in the United States have asthma, with children making up around a fifth of this number.

An article in the journal Nutrition Reviews states that asthma is more common in African American people and individuals with lower incomes.

This article looks at foods that people with asthma may wish to avoid, foods that may improve or even prevent asthma symptoms from developing, and some lifestyle factors that may help a person manage this chronic condition.

Some foods may be more suitable than others for people with asthma for a number of reasons.

One reason is the nutrients they contain. Antioxidants, including some vitamins and minerals, are present in fresh fruits and vegetables. They play a role in removing toxins known as free radicals from the body. In this way, they help reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

Some foods contain allergens that can trigger a reaction in some people. Sulfites, for example, are a preservative present in dried fruits and vegetables, pickled foods, shrimp, wine, beer, and some other products.

Eating a lot of sulfites may trigger asthma in some people, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. People with food allergies may find that eating the food they have an allergy to triggers their asthma symptoms.

Obesity can also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. Staying active and following a diet that is low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables can help people with asthma maintain a moderate body weight.

Some nutrients that may be beneficial for people with asthma include:

  • vitamin D in foods and supplements
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin E
  • beta carotene
  • antioxidants, such as selenium and flavonoids
  • whole grains

The following sections provide more details on how these nutrients can benefit a person with asthma and which foods contain them.

Vitamin D in foods and supplements

Some evidence suggests that low levels of vitamin D have links to an increased risk of asthma episodes in children and adults. It also indicates that taking a vitamin D supplement every day can significantly reduce the risk of hospital admission for a severe asthma episode.

Vitamin D may also support lung function and reduce upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold.

Vitamin D occurs naturally in just a few foods, so most people in the U.S. get their dietary vitamin D from fortified foods, such as breakfast cereals, yogurt, and orange juice.

Some good food sources of vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • mushrooms
  • egg yolks
  • cheese
  • liver

Learn more about the benefits of vitamin D here.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Following a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing asthma.

One 2020 article states that several studies have found that a high consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of adults and children developing asthma.

Also, a 2017 review of over 80 studies found associations between a high intake of fruits and vegetables and reduced asthma symptoms, such as wheezing.

Learn about the healthiest fruits here.

Vitamins

Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich sources of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta carotene. These help the body fight toxins that may damage tissues.

This, in turn, may help improve lung function and control the symptoms of asthma.

Some rich sources of vitamin C include:

  • citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit
  • kiwi fruit
  • strawberries
  • cantaloupe
  • red and green peppers
  • broccoli
  • baked potatoes
  • tomatoes

Learn more about the best foods for vitamin C here.

Some good sources of vitamin E include:

  • nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and hazelnuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • broccoli
  • fortified foods, such as breakfast cereal, fruit juice, margarine, and spreads

Learn about the best foods for vitamin E here.

Beta carotene

Orange and red fruits and vegetables, as well as some others, contain beta carotene.

Some examples include:

  • carrots
  • sweet potatoes
  • squash
  • red and yellow peppers
  • cantaloupe
  • apricots
  • dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach

Learn more about beta carotene here.

Flavonoids and selenium

Fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants called flavonoids and selenium, which have anti-inflammatory benefits.

A wide variety of fruits contain flavonoids, including:

Black and green teas also contain flavonoids.

Some foods that contain selenium include:

  • seafood
  • meat
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • dairy products
  • bread
  • cereals

Learn more about food and antioxidants here.

Whole grain foods

Eating whole grain foods may also play a role in reducing the symptoms of asthma.

One 2018 study found that people who enjoyed a healthy diet, including whole grain foods, experienced fewer asthma symptoms and had better control of their condition.

Whole grain foods include:

  • whole oats
  • wholewheat pasta
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur wheat

Learn more about whole grain and high fiber foods here.

The American Lung Association (ALA) has identified several key foods, beverages, and other substances that people with asthma may wish to avoid because they may worsen the symptoms of the condition.

For example, people may wish to avoid:

  • sulfites
  • salicylates
  • allergens, which can vary among individuals
  • fast foods, which tend to be highly processed

The following sections provide more detail about how these items can affect people with asthma.

Foods that contain sulfites

Sulfites are a type of preservative often present in preserved foods and beverages, such as alcohol, pickled foods, bottled lemon and lime juice, and dried fruits.

People with asthma who have high levels of sulfites in their diet may find that their symptoms worsen. The ALA warns that consuming foods containing sulfites, particularly wine, may even trigger an asthma episode.

A 2018 article indicates that white wine consumption can lead to intolerance reactions in some people with asthma.

Learn more about alcohol and asthma here.

Salicylates

Salicylates are compounds present in teas, coffees, spicy foods, and foods flavored with herbs. Although this is rare, some people with asthma are sensitive to these compounds and might be more likely to experience a flare-up of symptoms.

Two studies from 2015 and 2016 found that aspirin, which contains salicylate, exacerbated asthma in some people.

Learn more about the risks and benefits of aspirin here.

Fast food

One 2013 study that looked at the consumption of fast food among children and teenagers found that those who ate it three times per week or more were more likely to develop severe asthma as well as other health conditions.

Learn more about how fast food affects the body here.

People with asthma should try to identify and avoid triggers that may worsen their symptoms or bring on asthma episodes.

The ALA says that the following are some things to avoid to prevent triggering asthma:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • common food allergens, such as peanuts and shellfish
  • smoke exposure, such as from cigarette smoke, campfires, or wood burning fireplaces
  • adverse weather, such as stormy, windy, cold, or humid weather
  • air pollution, smog, vehicle exhaust fumes, and chemical fumes
  • dander and saliva from animals with fur or feathers
  • environmental exposure to dust mites, mold, or spores

Learn more about allergic asthma here.

There is currently no cure for asthma, but many people can manage it using a treatment plan that combines lifestyle choices, such as avoiding triggers, and medications.

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology, some medications that a doctor may prescribe include:

  • medications to control symptoms, such as corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists, taken either through an inhaler or by mouth
  • maintenance therapy, such as anticholinergics
  • rescue medications, such as short-acting beta-agonists, taken through an inhaler
  • oral or IV corticosteroids for severe symptoms
  • biologics, which are newer drugs that may suit some people

Learn more about the treatments options for asthma here.

The ALA recommends managing asthma proactively, not only with medications but also by avoiding triggers.

Preventing the symptoms

Some tips for preventing the symptoms of asthma include:

  • following a treatment plan, keeping appointments, and using all medications as the doctor advises
  • keeping a log of how and when symptoms appear to help identify them
  • taking steps to identify and avoid foods, environments, and activities that trigger symptoms
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • avoiding or quitting smoking
  • consuming a diet that is low in processed foods and high in fresh fruits and vegetables

A 2019 review indicates that viral infections can also trigger asthma symptoms. Taking steps to avoid infection, such as washing the hands and getting flu shots, can help reduce the risk.

Which complications can asthma lead to? Find out here.

Although there is no specific diet to reduce or prevent asthma, there are many foods and beverages that can positively or negatively affect asthma symptoms.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed, fatty, and fried foods can help a person manage their asthma symptoms.

Keeping track of triggers and symptoms and working with a doctor can help people with asthma control their condition more effectively.

Read this article in Spanish.

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