May is here, and so are the flowers! I took this picture recently at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during Cherry Blossom Festival. I have never seen so many gorgeous colors in one place. During the Spring time, everything is blooming beautifully: we’re seeing lots of color; we’re smelling sweetness in the air, and…wait, now I can’t see the colors because my eyes are itchy and watery. Or smell the lovely scent because my nose is stuffy and I’m practically scratching it off my face. For many of us, those April showers not only helped the flowers bloom, but our allergies as well. I had an allergy test conducted on me when I was in high school and discovered I was allergic to tress, grass and cats: so, basically, the outdoors and most people’s homes. Fantastic. Throughout the years I have taken countless prescription and over the counter meds to try and combat it. I have tried nasal irrigation using a Neti pot, eye washes and drops- all providing temporary relief but not letting me conduct my very physical life in the way I wanted.
Recently, I began doing some research on what kinds of foods might help stave off some of these allergy symptoms. Many of the foods I read about that were ones I generally already incorporate into my diet, so I figured there was nothing more to be added. However, I also looked at which foods exacerbate allergy symptoms and again found many of the foods I eat daily: I had essentially been canceling out the good with the bad. Some of these foods that can inflame allergy symptoms were surprising to me, like celery. If you know me, you know I eat celery and natural peanut butter every day almost without fail. Since we are only just beginning allergy season and there’s plenty of suffering yet to come, I thought I’d experiment with eliminating or reducing some of these foods to see if it has any effect on my symptoms. I’ll report my, hopefully successful, findings in next month’s newsletter. If you’d like to take this little journey along with me, read on to see which foods can prove helpful or problematic for your allergies. I’d love to hear about your experience, so please Tweet me or leave a comment on my blog with your findings.
What to include:
- Fatty fish, like Salmon– Omega-3s are the key here, so if you’re not a fan of fish you can try flax seeds, walnuts, enriched eggs or cooked soybeans. Omega-3s contain anti-inflammatory properties, which account for their role in allergy relief. The downside is that you have to include quite a bit of these fatty acids into your diet to see any effects. Just eating that tuna burger for lunch is not going to cut it. However, including a healthy source of Omega-3s every day may provide some benefit, and since they reduce inflammation in the body, it’s an important nutrient to include in your diet regardless of if you suffer from allergies or not.
- Apples– A powerful compound of nutrients in apples might help ease your allergy symptoms. Their skins contain Quercetin, an antioxidant that supports other antioxidants, supports lung function, and moderates inflammation; also be found on onions and tomatoes. Apples also contain Vitamin C, which helps protect against damaging free radicals as well as toxic chemicals and pollutants. In addition to apples, other foods that contain high amounts of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, red bell peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. Another powerhouse found in apples in rutin, a flavonoid that can reduce mucus buildup (aka runny nose). Rutin is also found in asparagus and buckwheat.
- Grapes– Red grape skins contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and may lessen allergy effects. Although resveratrol is also found in red wine, which is why it’s considered “heart healthy”, read on to see why you’d benefit more from eating this antioxidant than sipping it (sadly).
- Warm Liquids– If your allergy symptoms tend to include congestion or a wet cough, try sipping warm liquids to thin out the mucus. Chicken broth, tea or warm water with lemon will all do the trick. You can also try taking hot shower, inhaling the steam can have a similar effect.
What to avoid:
- Celery– Why must it be my go-to snack!? Since some of Spring’s most common allergy triggers come from the same families of plants as some foods, certain fruits and vegetables can cause what is known as Oral Allergy Syndrome. Instead of making you sneeze, these foods can cause an itchy throat or mouth, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. If you’re allergic to grasses, avoid other grass plants, like corn, wheat and rice. Additionally, celery, peaches, tomatoes and melons may also cause problems. If you have ragweed allergies, bananas, cucumbers, melons and zucchini can trigger symptoms as well. Speak to your allergist about what specific allergies you have so you’ll know which families of plants are best to avoid at the grocery store.
- Spicy Foods– I always thought spicy foods were a good thing to include since they seem to clear up congestion, but capsaicin, the compound they contain that gives them their kick, can cause allergy symptoms like a runny nose and watery eyes. If you’re already suffering from these allergy symptoms, you might want to avoid spicy foods so you don’t prolong your suffering.
- Alcohol– Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, causing either a runny or congested nose and possibly making your allergy symptoms feel worse. If you’re already feeling sneezy, it might be worth it to skip happy hour. Alcohol also contains naturally occurring histamine, made during the fermentation process, which can also cause some allergy-like symptoms.
Try experimenting with including some foods from the top list and/or eliminating some foods from the bottom and see how you feel. Perhaps you may be able to survive allergy season the natural way this year!