Alleviating springtime allergies with diet
by Jenny Schweyer
There are those people who love to walk among the cherry blossoms in the spring – and then there are those who shudder at the very thought. As alluring as spring is for some, it can be pure misery for those who suffer from spring allergies.
Spring allergy sufferers don’t always think of the severity of their symptoms in terms of the foods they eat (or don’t eat). Yet diet may play a bigger role in spring allergies than many people realize. With an overall shift in healthcare and wellness toward prevention of all kinds of illnesses rather than treating or curing symptoms after-the-fact, it should come as no surprise that good nutrition has a crucial role to play in the minimization and prevention of spring allergies.
A healthy, balanced diet heavy in vegetables and supplemented with foods that are probiotic-rich contribute to stronger intestinal health. “Restoring intestinal integrity will help to minimize the severity of the reactions as well as promote a balanced immune system,” says Dr. Elizabeth Wilson, a Naturopathic Doctor from the Quesnel Naturopathic Clinic in Quesnel, BC. Basically, a healthy gut equals a hardier immune system, making you less sensitive to environmental allergens. Additionally, a balanced diet that delivers the recommended daily amounts of nutrients, such as vitamins C, A, E, D and B12 in particular, also provides a natural boost to the immune system.
However, it may be as much about what you don’t eat as what you do when it comes to preventing the sniffles, stuffiness and itchy, watery eyes of spring allergies. Research indicates that certain foods are best avoided during the spring if you tend to react negatively to the environment. For instance, many people don’t realize that spicy foods (say, your favourite Thai dish) trigger the release of histamines which, during non-spring months may not be enough to bother you, but combined with pollen can be all it takes to send you into a fit of sneezes.
Additionally, certain foods may trigger specific allergies in the spring if they happen to be related to whatever allergen you are sensitive to. For example, celery, which is related to grass, may exacerbate a reaction to grass. Other foods, such as tomatoes and parsley, are known as “cross reactors.” Tomatoes can actually increase sensitivity to grass pollen, while parsley should be avoided by people who tend to react to certain tree pollens.
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly which allergen it is that you are reacting to. Chances are you know you suffer from some type of spring allergen but haven’t been tested to know exactly which one(s) is the culprit, so you’ve gotten used to keeping all of your windows closed for three or four months each year and holding your breath while running from your front door to your driveway. Perhaps you even take a regular or daily antihistamine to cope. If so, adjusting your diet may help alleviate some of your symptoms. You may also want to see a Naturopathic Doctor who can help you better understand your own triggers and develop a customized diet plan to address your unique needs.
Generally speaking, however, there are things you can do when it comes to diet to build up your immune system, which is good not just for preventing allergies, but preventing all kinds of illnesses too.
Eat more whole foods. Opt for foods that have had little or no processing. This includes loading your diet with vegetables and fruits, 100 per cent whole grains, barley, brown rice, quinoa and beans. Canned whole foods are also acceptable, as long as they don’t contain a lot of additives, such as high levels of salt, sugar, oils, or anything artificial. (Note: Sometimes fresh vegetables and fruits can actually trigger spring allergies, so sugar-free, no or low-salt canned versions make an excellent alternative to fresh whole foods.)
Reduce dependence on nutritional supplements. The problem with supplements is that sometimes users allow them to take the place of actual foods that contain those nutrients. This can negate the potential benefits of nutritional supplements, which need to be taken either with food in order to be effective. Some vitamins (particularly B and C) tend to simply pass straight through the body without being processed and are, literally, flushed down the toilet. Try to get the bulk of your nutrients from real food, and take any supplements along with food and only to make up any gaps that naturally occur in your diet.
Eat more probiotic yoghurt. As previously mentioned, probiotics strengthen the intestines which boosts overall immunity. Other probiotic-rich foods include kefir, and fermented foods such as tempeh (fermented soybeans, Indonesian style), pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. Even dark chocolate contains probiotics, plus it’s high in antioxidants, so don’t feel guilty about indulging in a square or two!