Springtime's budding trees and soft, warm breezes bring a sense of hope to most—but if you suffer from allergies, the season may mean nothing but a big headache. Fortunately, there's hope for you, too: Small dietary changes can make a big difference in allergy symptoms. Eating—or avoiding—the following foods will help you beat sniffles, itchy eyes, headaches, and other pesky signs of spring.
Experts say to avoid foods that suppress immunity and contribute to inflammation, two major factors in allergy flare-ups. These include sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white flour); processed foods, especially fried items like chips and french fries, which are stuffed with inflammatory fats; red meat; eggs; poultry; shellfish, which contain an inflammation trigger called arachidonic acid; and, for very sensitive people, foods from the nightshade family, including eggplant and tomatoes.
Food intolerances also may exacerbate seasonal allergies. Wheat, dairy, and corn are the most common offenders, says Fred Pescatore, MD, author of The Allergy and Asthma Cure (Wiley, 2003). Gluten and dairy may trigger mucous production and inflammation in sensitive people, says Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, FACN, author of The Gluten Connection (Rodale, 2006). If you have allergies, both suggest cutting these foods out of your diet for a week or so to see if your symptoms improve.
Allies against allergies
Now the good news: Certain dietary com-pounds can help quell allergies by reducing inflammation, acting as natural antihistamines, and easing congestion. With these healing foods, you just might eat your way through an allergy-free spring.
Spice it up. Certain kicky foods help give allergy symptoms the boot. Start with ginger, which decreases inflammation, thins mucous secretions, and helps clear nasal passages. Pile on garlic and onions. Garlic cloves contain sulfur compounds that en-hance immunity and fight yeast overgrowth, common in allergy sufferers, says Pescatore. Onions' quercetin—an anti-inflammatory flavonoid—works as a natural antihistamine (
Alternative Medicine Review, 2000, vol. 5, no. 5). (Other good quercetin sources include apples, broccoli, tea, and red wine.) Cook with turmeric, an orange-yellow spice that contains curcumin, a strong anti-inflammatory that calms allergies. And munch on red peppers, both hot and sweet, for immunity-supporting carotenoids and vitamin C. Vitamin C also works as an antihistamine and lowers inflammation.
Focus on fats. Flaxseed, walnuts, and salmon (or other fatty fish, such as tuna, mackerel, and herring) offer inflammation-busting omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, rich in oleic acid, also provide abundant vitamin E, which Pescatore says is a powerful antioxidant that also works as an anti-inflammatory and immune enhancer.
Go green. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with minerals and compounds that improve immunity; they're especially high in immune-boosting carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lutein. Great choices include kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and mustard greens.
Toss in berries. Blueberries—dried, frozen, or fresh—are rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants that decrease inflammation and beef up immunity, says Pescatore. Other good choices: raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and cranberries. "Different colored berries are high in antioxidants," he says. "And because berries are low in sugar, they're naturally anti-inflammatory [and are] better fruit choices for people who suffer from allergies. "
Lisa Turner is a frequent contributor.