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Can certain foods help my asthma? Add to ...

The question: My asthma is worse in the spring – are there any foods that can help me feel better?

The answer: There’s no question this can be a tough time of year for people who have asthma and seasonal allergies; attacks can be frequent and severe. The release of pollens and moulds in the spring can trigger sneezing, wheezing and sinus congestion.

Diet certainly is not a replacement for medication used to treat and prevent asthma symptoms, but certain foods and nutrients may help you manage the condition. In fact, many experts believe a reason behind rising asthma rates in North America is related to diet. Studies suggest that eating fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed foods is increasing asthma risk.

If you’re thinking about changing your diet to help control your asthma, start by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Not only is a higher intake linked with a lower risk of developing asthma in the first place, asthma sufferers who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables also tend to have the condition under better control.

Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants needed for healthy lung function. Aim to include at least seven servings in your daily diet. One serving is equivalent to one medium-sized fruit, 1/4 cup of dried fruit, 1/2 cup of vegetables and one cup of salad greens.

Omega-3 fats in fish may also help improve asthma symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are used by the body to produce compounds that may help reduce lung inflammation. Aim to eat oily fish – salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, Arctic char and sardines – two times a week.

I also recommend eating more vitamin E-rich foods. Vitamin E helps maintain the proper function of immune cells called mast cells. When mast cells react and accumulate in an uncontrolled manner, inflammatory compounds are released that can contribute to asthma.

The best food sources of vitamin E include vegetable oils, almonds, peanuts, soybeans, whole grains, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, avocado and green leafy vegetables.

The mineral magnesium is also important for healthy lung function; it’s needed for the proper contraction and relaxation of the bronchi that carry air to the lungs. A low intake of magnesium is associated with impaired lung function, airways spasms and wheezing. In fact, one study found that 40 per cent of asthma sufferers were deficient in magnesium.

Foods that add more magnesium to your diet include nuts, seeds, legumes, prunes, whole-grain cereals, leafy green vegetables and wheat germ.

Body weight may also affect asthma symptoms. Studies have also shown that when people with asthma lose excess weight, their symptoms improve. Increased weight may lead to inflammation in the respiratory tract or cause the airways to be hyper-responsive, a hallmark of asthma.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Leslie Beck.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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