Asthma and Diet

Asthma and Lung Health

By Mary-Ann Shearer

Asthma results when triggers cause swelling of the tissues in the air passages of the lung, making it difficult to breathe. Typical symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. First, some foods can provoke asthma attacks by causing an allergic reaction.

Asthma and Diet: Foods that trigger attacks

Foods in your diet (according to your susceptibility), can be:

  • Foods containing the additives benzoates(E210-19), sulphites (E220-8) in dried fruit, meat products , cold drinks or gallates (E310-12) These synthetic antioxidants are found in processed & heated fast, fried foods such as chips/crisp/fries also in baked goods, gelatin dessert, lemon juices, margarine, chewing gum and breakfast cereals
  • Cider, wine  and beer – usually due to sulphites
  • Foods containing yeast or mould, such as bread and blue cheeses
  • Foods, drinks and snacks containing colorings E102, E104 and E110
  • Cow’s milk, cereals (wheat and or gluten), eggs, fish, soy, and nuts (especially peanuts)

Some foods can actually dilate air passageways, by thinning the mucus and opening them up for freer breathing. The foods in this category include the spicy, pungent foods like chili, hot mustard, garlic and onions. These hot foods work by stimulating nerves, resulting in the release of watery fluid in the mouth, throat and lungs. This does not necessarily make them good, it is just an effect they have.

Thirdly, some foods can control inflammation of the airways because of their anti-inflammatory components. Foods that help to do this include those high in Omega 3 (flax oil and dark green leafy veg) due to their anti inflammatory effect on the body  and vitamin C-packed foods like fresh fruit and vegetables. (Oranges, pineapples, berries, bell peppers etc)


  • Foods rich in the B vitamins such as dark green leafy vegetables – Taking Barleylife daily makes this an uncomplicated process
  • Good sources of magnesium such as raw nuts and seeds, dark green leafy veg, fresh fruit and vegetables and preservative free dried fruit
  • Foods high in essential fatty acids – take 1 Tablespoon cold pressed organic flax oil daily with Barleylife (which is also an excellent source of unheated Omega 3) Most other natural plant fats contain some Omega 3 but are usually much higher in Omega 6


Because an allergy is highly individual condition, it is not possible to give a definitive list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.  Those who suspect that foods are triggering their asthmatic attacks should keep a food diary and seek expert nutritional counseling (see a Natural Health consultant n our website

Common foods that may trigger asthma in susceptible individuals, however, include cow’s milk and the byproducts like yoghurt and cheese, wheat and other cereals, yeast and foods containing mould, such as blue cheeses.  Nuts (especially peanuts), fish and eggs can produce the most immediate and dangerous reactions.

Certain food additives may also be potential triggers in some people.  The presence of sulphites should be indicated on the label of packaged foods, but it is not obvious when such foods are served in delicatessens or restaurants, where of course they do not have any labels. In South Africa no one seems to police this anyway. Sulphites are used in cider, beers and wines.  These products may pose a risk for susceptible asthmatics when, for instance, they inhale the bouquet of a wine.  Perhaps as a result of bacterial activity during production, some wines also contain levels of histamine that may  occasionally prompt asthmatic reactions in susceptible people.

Benzoate preservatives, which are present in a range of products from margarine, soft drinks and reduced-calorie jams to chewing gum and fish roe, may bring on asthmatic attacks.  Other potential triggers include the less common antioxidant additives – the gallates(E310-12 ), butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA or E320) – used in the manufacture of margarine, and also butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT or E321) – which are used in certain fats and oils, as well as in some breakfast cereals.

In susceptible people, the food colourings E 102 (tartrazine, yellow), #104 (quinoline yellow) and E110 (sunset yellow) may also trigger asthma.  Under EU legislation the presence of all these additives must be indicated on food labels.

Foods containing the B vitamins, for example leafy green vegetables and pulses, may help asthmatics whose attacks are provoked by stress.  There is also some evidence that asthmatics may have a tendency to be deficient in niacin and vitamins B6 and C.


Aim’s Composure – is used by hundreds of people to help calm the asthmatic response with great effect. (Order directly from Aim if you are an Aim member at the wholesale price or Contact Us to help you).

Antioxidants – which include beta-carotene from brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables such as apricots, carrots and red or yellow peppers, and dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, barley grass (Barleylife) and wheat grass; vitamin C from citrus fruits, pineapples and berries; and vitamin E from  olive and flax oil-may strengthen the lungs defences by mopping up Free radicals.  These potentially harmful substances are generated as part of an asthmatic’s inflammatory response to air pollution or allergens.

Asthma and diet
Chronic inflammatory diseases, such as asthma, have been linked to an imbalance of dietary fats. These dietary polyunsaturated fats or PUFAs fall into two groups; omega-3 PUFAs derived mainly from flax oil and some other nut and seed oils (derivatives of Omega 3 –DHA & EPA are found in fatty fish) and from dark green leafy vegetables and omega 6-PUFAs, derived mainly from vegetable oils. Ideally, we need to obtain a balanced intake of omega-3s and omega-6s, but many people eat far more of the potentially inflammatory omega-6s and too few of the protective omega-3s. Taking Millbrook flax oil or Aim’s Aimega daily will help to counteract this.

Asthma has also been linked with low dietary levels of selenium, magnesium or B6 in some studies, while those with high intakes of antioxidants (vitamin E or vitamin C) seem to have the lowest risk. One study that analysed the diets of over 5,500 males and 5,700 females found that those with the lowest intakes of fresh fruit and salad or raw vegetables were most likely to suffer from asthma. The effect was strongest among smokers.

Magnesium, found in all fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds particularly, dark green vegetables, sunflower seeds and dried figs, may help by relaxing the airways.  A British study carried out at the University of Nottingham in 1994 suggested that people with low levels of magnesium were more susceptible to asthma attacks. Current research also suggests that Omega 3’s may help to protect against asthma.  They are a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Asthmatics sometimes take coffee to reduce the effects of attacks.

Coffee contains theophylline, used in some medications to dilate the bronchial tubes and assist breathing.  In emergencies, two cups of strong coffee should bring relief within 2 hours, with the effects lasting for up to 6 hours.  However, coffee, tea and caffeine-containing cola drinks should be avoided by those taking theophylline  in medication (ask your doctor)as the combined effect can be toxic.  A high intake of caffeine is also inadvisable if your attacks are triggered by anxiety also upsets the endocrine system the very system that controls lung function

Preventing Asthma Triggered by Foods:

  • The best way to avoid food-induced or aggravated asthma is by avoiding or eliminating the food or food ingredient from your diet or the environment. Remember that these substances can be both released into the air or consumed when eating or drinking.
  • Read ingredient labels on food packages and know where food triggers are found in foods.
  • Work with your physician on a care plan and proper use of medications, you will be prepared to act in case of an asthma attack.

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