Is There an Asthma Diet?
There’s no special diet for asthma. It's possible that eating more or less of certain foods could help with asthma symptoms, but more research is needed to confirm this.
But a nutritious diet is an important part of your overall health and asthma treatment plan. It can help you stay at a healthy weight, which can improve your asthma symptoms. It will also give you lots of antioxidant nutrients that can help lower swelling and irritation (inflammation) in your lungs.
Asthma and Nutrition
Asthma has become more common in the United States in the last few decades, and some researchers think that our diet has something to do with it. Eating more processed foods and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables could be the reason.
Body weight plays a big role in asthma. Being overweight or having obesity can increase inflammation in your body, which can make asthma worse. Extra weight can also put pressure on your lungs and make breathing harder. And it can make it harder to exercise, which is a key part of managing asthma. Research shows that being underweight also increases your risk of asthma, but the reasons for that aren't clear.
There’s evidence that eating a diet higher in certain nutrients, including vitamins C and E, beta carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, can ease asthma symptoms. Many of these are antioxidant nutrients, which protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation.
It's also important to avoid any foods that you are allergic to, which can worsen your asthma. And you should make sure you're not low in certain nutrients, which could trigger asthma. For example, it's possible that not getting enough vitamin D could make your asthma worse. Your doctor is the best person to speak with about what nutrients you might be missing.
In general, good nutrition is important for everyone, and especially people with chronic diseases. If you’re not getting the right nutrients, you might be at higher risk of illness and have a harder time fighting the respiratory viruses that often trigger an asthma attack or severe asthma emergency.
What Should I Eat to Prevent Asthma?
To lower your risk of asthma, follow these nutritious diet tips:
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some of the most nutritious include leafy greens like spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, blueberries, sweet potatoes, raspberries, and avocados.
Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines – can help lower inflammation in your body.
Avoid processed foods. These tend to be high in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, and low in nutrients. Eating lots of processed foods has been linked to weight gain and worse health overall.
Get enough vitamin D. Milk, eggs, and fish are food sources.
Eat fiber and lean protein. Fiber found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and lean protein found in fish, light-meat chicken, tofu, and beans, can help you control your weight.
What Else Affects Asthma Symptoms?
Other things to keep in mind when you're eating for asthma:
Keep your calories in balance. If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. If you're overweight, you have a higher risk of more severe asthma symptoms.
Know your food allergies. Eating foods you're allergic to can worsen asthma symptoms.
Avoid sulfites. These chemical preservatives found in wine, dried fruits, pickled vegetables, fresh and frozen shrimp, and other foods may worsen asthma symptoms.
Treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Up to 80% of people with asthma also have GERD (reflux of stomach acid), which can make asthma more difficult to control. If you have GERD, you may need to take medicine. Losing weight if you're overweight can also help with GERD. You should also try eating smaller meals and cutting down on alcohol, caffeine, and any foods that you notice trigger GERD symptoms. Avoid eating just before bedtime.
Before you make any big changes to your eating habits, it’s always a good idea to talk to your health care provider or asthma specialist first. Depending on your asthma diagnosis – and considering your general health and how severe your asthma symptoms are – your health care provider might have specific advice on how to improve your diet.
Living With Asthma: Tips for Better Nutrition
For people who have a poor appetite and fatigue from asthma symptoms or medications, here are some tips:
Take a multivitamin and calcium supplement daily. If you aren't eating a proper diet or you have a low appetite, a multivitamin can help provide nutrients. If you're on long-term, high doses of oral steroids, those drugs can decrease calcium absorption and lead to bone loss. Ask your doctor how much calcium you should take.
Breathe evenly while you are chewing and eating. Try to relax during meals and stop eating if you need to catch your breath.
Double or triple your favorite recipes and freeze the extra portions. Turn to these homemade frozen entrees when you don’t feel like cooking.
For tasks that require the most effort, do them when you have the most energy. Grocery shopping can be tiring if you have asthma, so do it when you feel the freshest; for example, in the morning or after a rest. Or get a friend or family member to buy your groceries.
Don't stand in the kitchen when you can sit. Keep a barstool by the kitchen counter, or do your chopping, cutting, and mixing at the kitchen table.