Certain foods, additives, or preservatives have been found to exacerbate asthma in a small number of cases. And for a very few asthmatics, food can lead to serious asthma attacks.
Asthmatics are usually allergic to only one food, or at most two or three foods. It’s a common misconception that people are sensitive or allergic to a wide variety of foods.
If you can identify the specific food or additive, that triggers your asthma symptoms, the best treatment is simply to avoid it.
Asthmatics generally have the same nutritional needs and food considerations as anyone else, but if you have asthma it’s important to make a healthy diet part of your day-to-day life. Asthma can place additional stress on your body. This is especially true for asthmatics who require regular treatment with oral corticosteroids, which can deplete the body of important nutrients.
Food and asthmatic Reactions
Asthmatic reactions to food can vary widely. Both whole and processed foods can cause asthmatic reactions. Foods themselves, the chemicals that have been added to them, and individual susceptibility all play a role in determining whether or not you will experience a reaction to a certain food. Even the time of year may play a part. For example, when you’re suffering a seasonal allergy such as hay fever, you may be extra sensitive to foods that are not ordinarily a problem for you.
Food seems to cause more problems in very young children. In many cases, this is a result of the child’s inability to completely digest proteins. Luckily, many children who are sensitive or allergic to food products will be able to tolerate these foods as they grow older.
Common Food Reactions
It is widely documented that several common foods tend to be linked with asthma symptoms. Milk, yogurt and ice-cream or other dairy products are particularly likely to cause coughing or wheezing in asthmatics. Processed foods, eggs, shrimp, fish, citrus fruits, soy, and wheat are other common food associated with asthma. Nuts and peanuts in particular have been known to cause serious, even fatal attacks in people with asthma. These are usually due to a rare condition known as anaphylaxis which is a very severe allergic reaction and is not true asthma.
Chemicals in Food
Some asthmatics may be neither sensitive nor allergic to any particular food — but are allergic to the preservatives, flavours and colours added to modern foods.
Tartrazine (E102) is a yellow food colouring made from coal tar which is found in both foods and medications. Approximately half the people who are allergic to aspirin are allergic to Tartrazine. It is sometimes found in baked goods, cake mixes, candy, potato chips, pudding, soft drinks, and many other processed foods.
Monosodium glutamate (E261) or MSG is a flavour enhancer frequently found in Chinese food, packaged soups and potato chips. A small group of asthmatics have severe reactions to MSG.
Sulphites and sulphur dioxide (E220, 221, 222, 226, 227) are often found in canned foods or drinks, soft drinks, wine, beer, dried fruit, packaged soups, and pickled vegetables. Because the foods are of such a wide variety, sulphites and sulphur dioxide can be a constant source of asthma if you are triggered by these substances.
Benzoic acid (E210) is a preservative related to aspirin that can cause problems in susceptible asthmatics.
Aspirin and salicylates may occur naturally in certain foods such as chocolate, mushrooms and yeast extracts. They may be associated with other conditions such as mouth ulcers, tiredness and bowel disorders.
Identifying Problem Foods
The difficulty in deciding whether a food or food additive triggers a reaction is that it may come on many hours after the food has been eaten. Keeping an asthma diary and noting what foods and drinks were consumed prior to symptoms may help to clarify the situation. If the situation is still unclear a skin test or an exclusion diet can be tried.
If you suspect that a certain food is making your asthma worse, try and avoid it for two weeks. If your asthma improves, reintroduce the food to see if it makes your symptoms worse. This way, you can be your own detective.
Avoidance of Food-Inducing Triggers
Avoidance is the safest and most effective way to control asthma symptoms triggered by food. Once you have identified the foods that trigger your asthma, you need to devise strategies to eliminate them from your diet:
If you have an immediate reaction to a certain food, avoid it in future
Check labels on cans to see if the foods are free from the substances you are allergic to. If you are sensitive to milk, for example, you should also avoid eating ice cream, cheese, and milk chocolate.
If you are sensitive to food additives, don’t be afraid to ask whether they have been used in the preparation of dishes when eating out.
Ask your pharmacist whether the medications you take include additives to which you are sensitive.
If you wish to remove something out of your diet, consult with a doctor or nutritionist first, as it may be important for general health or child’s growth
Special Diets & Nutritional Supplements
Unfortunately, there is no special diet that can make your asthma magically disappear, and such restricted diets cannot in general be recommended. You should look out for any types of food or drink that make your asthma worse, try to identify the substance, and then avoid the substance where possible.
Asthmatics have the same basic dietary requirements as others. However if you have a chronic disease like asthma, your body may be under additional stress. Sometimes, asthma medications can rob your body of valuable vitamins and minerals. Because of this, in addition to a good, sound diet, a nutritional supplement could be beneficial. If you feel run-down or for some other reason are unable to meet your nutritional requirements, consult with your doctor whether a nutritional supplement is right for you.