Living with asthma means feeling super sensitive to shifts in temperature and humidity. But what about the foods you eat?
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), some of the worst foods for asthma include:
- foods with sulfites
- pickled foods
- gas-causing foods
- foods and drinks with salicylates
- inflammatory foods
Yep, what’s for dinner might actually impact whether you rest and breathe easy tonight. Here’s what you need to know about the best and worst foods for asthma.
While there’s no standard diet for folks with chronic lung diseases, it’s possible some food choices can help or harm your ability to breathe.
There are three major ways that food could impact asthma.
- Systemic inflammation. A 2017 research report suggested asthma’s association with chronic inflammation could mean that foods full of antioxidants and unsaturated fatty acids dials down symptoms. On the flip side, sugar and saturated fat could make inflammation worse. TBH, chronic inflammation takes time. But if your diet is riddled with inflammatory foods, switching to anti-inflammatory eats could potentially help your asthma.
- Airway inflammation. Some fatty foods and dairy products might cause bronchial swelling.
- Metabolism needs. Some foods require more oxygen to get broken down and absorbed (aka metabolized). In general, carbs need more oxygen — and create more carbon dioxide — while healthy fats lead to less carbon dioxide. More research is needed to understand the link between asthma and metabolism needs, but it’s an interesting take.
Before diving into the best and worst foods for asthma below, remember that food issues vary from person to person. Talk with your doctor and a registered dietician before going scorched-earth on your daily diet.
tl;dr on asthma and food choices
Asthma attacks aren’t triggered by food alone. But we know that swapping processed, fatty foods for fresh, whole foods can soothe chronic inflammation and improve your overall health.
For some folks, a nutritious diet might translate to fewer asthma attacks.
The major food types that might make asthma worse include:
- foods that cause gas
- dairy and other potentially inflammatory foods
Now let’s look at some specific examples.
First, shellfish (especially shrimp) often contain sulfites. Second, it’s a common food allergy.
While the exact relationship remains a mystery, scientists have pinpointed an undeniable link between asthma and allergies. If you have asthma, you might also be allergic to shellfish.
Sulfites crop up wherever there’s fermentation. So you’ll frequently find these bad boys in wine and beer.
Still wanna enjoy booze on a low-sulfite diet? Reach for the gin or vodka. 🍸
Sulfites strike again! Vinegar is a fermented product, after all.
Heads up: Some apple cider vinegar brands make claims about having no added sulfites. The keyword is added. Most vinegar contains natural sulfites. If you love a little tang on your salad, try a splash of lemon juice instead.
Unfortunately, pickling unleashes sulfites. And though we’re sounding like our iPod’s stuck on replay (ah, 2010), we’ll say it again: sulfites can trigger asthma attacks.
Any of these pickled foods might be bad news for asthma:
- pickled cucumbers (the OG pickled food?)
- pickled onions
- pickled peppers
- pickled fruits
Fruit leather practically oozes healthy antioxidants and vitamin C. But if you don’t dry your own fruit at home, guess what kind of preservative manufacturers use to keep it colorful and chewy? Sulfites.
So, peeps living with asthma might benefit from eating fresh plums instead of prunes.
It’s no secret that beans can cause major bloating. But when gas builds up in your torso, it can also put pressure on your diaphragm and make you feel short of breath.
That combo of bloating, chest tightness from pressure, and even the stress of feeling icky can trigger an asthma attack.
So really, anything that makes you gassy spells bad news for asthma. A few more other culprits include:
- fizzy drinks
- fried food
- onions, for some folks
Science offers a few reasons to pass on the salami if you have asthma:
- Many processed types of meat contain sulfites as a preservative. Womp, womp.
- Processed meats are usually laced with potentially inflammatory saturated fat.
- Research suggests that a primarily plant-based diet might improve asthma symptoms.
Oh, dairy. It’s one of the most common food groups your body loves to hate.
If you’re sensitive to lactose, ditching dairy might keep asthma-triggering bloat away. And if dairy makes you feel congested or phlegmy, it’s probably not helping your airways.
Limited research on asthma and dairy has still found no evidence that cheese or milk causes asthma attacks. Your best bet is to pass on dairy for a few weeks, then reintroduce it to see if you notice a difference in your breathing.
According to the ALA, some folks with asthma are sensitive to salicylates, a natural chemical compound found in the following foods:
If your body doesn’t love salicylates, you might also notice congestion or a runny nose after eating or drinking.
Let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
The ALA says foods full of vitamin D and vitamin E can lower your risk of coughing, wheezing, and respiratory infection. A 2018 study also found that vitamin A boosts lung function.
Here are some specific vitamin-rich foods to keep your lungs in tip-top shape.
An egg-cellent source of vitamin D, egg yolks help your body keep inflammation in check.
Just know that some eggs contain more vitamin D than others. If it’s in your budget, opt for free-range, organic eggs. Some farmers also feed their hens vitamin D-enriched nibbles.
First, seafood offers the most vitamin D per portion. Second, salmon offers plenty of antioxidants and healthy fats. And finally? Salmon contains magnesium, which has been shown to improve lung function in kids.
Basically, it’s a stellar protein source for folks with asthma.
A 2004 review linked apples to a lower risk of asthma. In the fast-paced world of science, that’s pretty retro research — but it’s not like fruit has changed much.
One theory is that selenium, an anti-inflammatory mineral in apples, could help soothe swollen airways.
Because cantaloupe is full of vitamin A, eating it regularly might be your ticket to easy breathing.
This sweet melon also offers oodles of vitamin C — a powerful antioxidant that support your immune system and healthy lung function.
Fun fact: Your body magically converts the beta-carotene in carrots into vitamin A. That makes carrots a hearty source of asthma-quelling nutrients.
Since people living with asthma tend to feel better on plant-heavy diets, you can’t go wrong by adding these orange sticks to your plate.
Sweet red pepper
Red pepper’s vitamin C content won’t cure your asthma. But it will help keep your heart and immune system functioning properly. Those are major factors in how well your body fights inflammation and stays well-oxygenated.
Meet the *most* vitamin C-rich fruit. According to the National Institutes of Health, a single guava offers 140 percent of your daily value of vitamin C. This large dose of vitamin C may translate to immune system support and healthy lung function. #winning
Aside from using your prescribed asthma meds, here are some tips to prevent or reduce asthma attacks:
- Know your triggers. Track your activities and symptoms until you have a clear picture of your asthma triggers. Then do your best to avoid them!
- Avoid smoke. Steer clear of areas full of secondhand smoke, and if you’re a smoker, try to quit. Air pollutants like smoke are major asthma triggers.
- Wash your hands. A 2019 research review found that viral infections can make your asthma worse. Wash your hands often — and for 20 seconds! — to get rid of germs.
- Move your body. Regular exercise helps with heart health and weight maintenance. These are both important for asthma management.
- Learn breathing techniques. Mindful breathing helps you efficiently push air in and out of your lungs. *Ahhhh…*
While you should never swap out your inhaler for a snack, food can impact asthma symptoms.
Certain nibbles like processed meats, wine, and sugar might increase inflammation. That’s bad news for constricted airways.
On the other hand, the nutrients in fresh fruits and veggies + eggs and seafood can relieve irritated airways and help prevent respiratory infections.