Spring is on its way! Birds are returning, the weather is warming, flowers are starting to bloom, and your nose is dripping! Yes, springtime is the height of allergy season for over 30 million of us across the United States.
True, there are over the counter and prescription medications galore with which hay fever sufferers valiantly attempt to stave off the tell-tale runny nose, watery eyes, and general inflammation brought on by the increased number of particulates in the air around us. And, yes, great relief can also be found in less conventional remedies like nasal lavage, acupuncture, hypnosis, and homeopathy. But recent research has also shown positive results for seasonal allergy sufferers through dietary intervention. In other words: certain nutrients can help treat hay fever; no prescription necessary!
Allergies are an inflammatory immune response to something the body recognizes as foreign. Supporting your immune system and reducing overall inflammation in the body can be amazingly effective at reducing your body’s reactions to these foreign substances.
Some foods can increase inflammation in the body, making your immune system more likely to react to allergens. Think of it like this: we all occasionally have “one of those days” when petty annoyances pile up, one after another, throughout the day, until we’re so much on edge that we then we blow up at our spouse/partner/roommate/kids/pets when we get home because we just can’t take it anymore! The body too is much more likely to over-react to annoyances, like allergens, if it is already “on edge.”
Other foods can decrease inflammation in the body and/or support our general immune health. This is beneficial in all sorts of ways, including in the body’s ability to deal with the allergic response.
The idea is to reduce the foods in your diet that contribute to inflammation and increase the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods, while also supporting your immune system.
Enough theory. The following is how to put this into practice:
1. Reduce the amount of protein in your diet to no more than 10% of your total Calories per day. For a 2000 Calorie/day diet, that’s no more than 50g protein. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average American consumes closer to 16% of his/her daily Calories from protein; those partaking in the low-carb diet fad may consume over twice that. Excess protein has to be broken down and excreted from your body, which wastes energy and increases inflammation.
2. Reduce your intake of dairy products. The protein and fat in milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products contribute to inflammation, thus taxing the immune system. If you are unable to eliminate dairy products from your diet, try to reduce your consumption to 1-2 servings per week, and mix it up by trying goat’s or sheep’s milk products instead of cow’s milk all the time.
3. Reduce your consumption of sugar (including sugary drinks and alcohol), caffeine, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and processed foods. These items all tax your immune system and increase inflammation in the body.
4. Drink lots of water. Take your weight in pounds, change “pounds” to “ounces,” divide by two, and you’ve got a good guideline for how much water you should drink per day, i.e., a 150-pound person needs 75 ounces of water per day. Add to that as needed when you exercise or sweat. Carry a water bottle with you to sip on throughout the day, and you’ll find it easy to meet this goal. If you dislike plain water, try adding a couple of tablespoons of 100% fruit juice to plain or sparkling water to sweeten it up a bit, but avoid artificial water additives and powders.
5. Eat foods containing quercetin. Quercetin is a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine compound found in many fruits and vegetables. Good sources include citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, limes, and lemons (it’s in the white part, so be sure to eat the whole sections of the fruit), red apples, red grapes, red onions, dark berries (like blueberries and blackberries,) buckwheat, kale, and black plums. Quercetin is also available as a dietary supplement in capsule form.
6. Cook with ginger, turmeric, and chili peppers. These hot little numbers are natural decongestants and anti-inflammatory foods. Ginger is especially effective as an antihistamine and for opening up bronchial tubes to help you breathe easier.
7. Increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. By shifting the balance of fats in your diet to include more Omega-3s and less of the other types of fats, you help shift your body into an anti-inflammatory state. Good sources of Omega-3s include cold water fish (salmon, sardines, herring, cod,) walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds. Walnut, flax, and hemp oils also make great salad dressings. Buy them in small quantities and keep them in a cool, dry place as they oxidize quickly. If you find it tough to get Omega-3s through your diet, try a fish oil supplement or a Vegan-friendly EPA/DHA capsule if you don’t do fish.
8. Support your immune system with a diet high in fiber, phytochemicals, and probiotics. Your digestive tract houses about 75% of your immune system, and fiber keeps it working correctly. Phytochemicals (compounds found in plants) have antioxidant properties, help your body eliminate toxins, and support your immune system in general. Support this cause by eating a wide variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Probiotics, found in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and tempeh (and also available in supplement form) replenish the good bacteria in your gut and keep everything in balance.
Start now! It may take a few weeks for you to see the results of these dietary changes, so it’s best to get on it early in the season. The benefits, however, are long-lasting as well as beneficial to your overall health. Think how much more enjoyable it will be to stop and smell the roses when they don’t make you sniffle anymore!
Fulgoni, V. L. (2008, May). Current Protein Intake in America: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2004. Retrieved from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/87/5/1554S.full
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2013, July 16). Treatments for Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Retrieved from Effective Health Care Program: http://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/index.cfm/search-for-guides-reviews-and-reports/?productid=1587&pageaction=displayproduct