5 Foods to Avoid if You Have Asthma
How Does Diet Affect Asthma Symptoms?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, a condition where the airways narrow and swell, causing a person to struggle to breathe. While asthma cases can range in severity, the CDC found over 3,500 people in the United States died from asthma in 2019.
Most asthma sufferers use medication through an inhaler to treat symptoms and have created an asthma plan with their medical provider. There is, however, growing research that finds certain foods may make asthma better or worse. While there is no one specific diet, there is evidence that certain foods can worsen inflammation and asthma symptoms. With today’s pandemic, asthmatics need to take every precaution. Let’s look at some of these foods and why asthma sufferers should avoid them if possible.
1. Artificial Sweeteners
In some cases, food allergies can trigger asthma, although it is rare. Some food additives like aspartame, the sweetener commonly used in diet sodas, have been shown to cause reactions in some people. These reactions can cause a severe attack, so any asthma sufferer should try to avoid food additives or artificial sweeteners when possible.
2. Processed Foods
Highly processed foods contain preservatives and artificial coloring that can cause inflammation and agitate asthma users. These food items include fast foods, packed foods, and frozen foods—most things that come in a wrapper. A study published in 2017 found that eating processed meat four-plus times a week was associated with worsened asthma symptoms.
As with artificial sweeteners, it may be difficult at times to avoid these types of food items. The key is to eat them in moderation. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America believes that parabens, tartrazine, and nitrites can have a larger effect than other chemicals. Read labels and try to avoid foods that contain these items, which usually include sugary drinks, ice cream, hot dogs, and other processed meats.
Many alcoholic drinks contain sulfites, which are a commonly used preservative. The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) reports that somewhere between 1 in 40 and 1 in 100 people with asthma have a sulfite sensitivity, which can worsen symptoms.
While this is a small amount, it can make a big difference to those who suffer. Try to avoid alcohol—both in the form of beer and wine—to avoid coming into contact with this preservative. Any food additive that can add to inflammation should be avoided as it can make it more difficult to breathe.
Items like milk and ice cream have long been thought to increase mucus in the lungs, although scientists still debate that. However, some asthma users report that dairy can be a trigger food for them—with things like cheese and yogurt—bringing additional symptoms. Unless you live a vegan lifestyle, it may be difficult to remove dairy from your diet. One idea, though, is to avoid dairy for a few weeks and see if asthma symptoms improve.
5. Fatty Foods
Foods like red meat, desserts, and other items with high-fat content can worsen inflammation and thus cause increased problems for asthma sufferers. They can also cause you to gain weight, which can be detrimental to those suffering from a chronic disease like asthma. The lungs of people who are overweight must work harder, which can be difficult for someone with asthma and lead to more long-term effects.
Some more natural fatty foods, like avocados and olive oil, do not have this effect; in fact, healthy fats that contain Omega-3 fatty acids can help fight inflammation. Think about where your fats come from and avoid those that are highly processed.
Asthmatic or Not…
Those with asthma should follow a healthy diet that avoids inflammatory foods, but this is also good advice for everyone. Non-inflammatory, non-processed items promote a healthy lifestyle, limit the intake of chemicals and preservatives, and provide the body with sufficient nutrients. While it is nearly impossible to avoid highly processed or inflammatory food—which makes up a large portion of the Western diet—asthma sufferers should know the concerns they bring and enjoy them in moderation or as an infrequent treat.
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