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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

The best diet for allergies and hayfever

Certain foods and drinks can make allergy symptoms worse – or better.

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Imagine your GP giving you this prescription for your nasal allergies or hayfever: “Eat some grapes and call me in the morning.” Well, it’s not that far-fetched.

Just as the right type of petrol helps your car run properly, the right diet for allergies is important to help you feel your best.

A healthy diet for allergies and hayfever protects you in many ways. It helps to keep your respiratory system strong. Many foods can help you breathe better because they open up clogged nasal passages. Certain foods have nutrients that can help boost your immunity and help your body fight sinus and respiratory infections, which are linked to allergies and hayfever.

The link between diet and allergies

Let’s take a short trip to the island of Crete. While skin allergies are common here, nasal allergies and wheezing are rare. Why?

From childhood on, the bulk of the Crete islanders’ diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts. The natural foods in the Mediterranean diet are high in antioxidants, which protect cells from the oxidative damage that causes diseases, and they have immune-boosting compounds.

In a study published in the journal Thorax, researchers found that Crete islanders who ate a Mediterranean diet had fewer allergy-related symptoms. They noted that diet staples such as nuts, grapes, oranges, apples and fresh tomatoes were protective against wheezing and nasal allergy symptoms.

The researchers also reported that eating margarine increased the risk of nasal allergy symptoms and wheezing. This is believed to be related to the fact that margarine is made with unhealthy fat that boosts inflammation.

How three foods fight allergies

Here’s how the anti-inflammatory properties of some typical foods on the Mediterranean diet protect against allergies.

  • Nuts. These are a great source of magnesium and vitamin E. Studies show that magnesium helps increase lung function and may also protect against wheezing in patients with asthma, which causes inflammation of the lungs. Vitamin E is an immune booster and may help to reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections, especially the common cold. As an antioxidant, vitamin E protects the body from damaging free radicals. Free radicals can cause oxidative tissue damage, which triggers inflammation that contributes to problems like allergies and asthma.
  • Apples, oranges and tomatoes. These three fruits are super sources of another antioxidant, vitamin C. Researchers found that they gave protection against allergies and asthma in the Crete diet study. This is important because nearly half of people with asthma also have other allergies.
  • Grapes. The skins of red grapes in particular are filled with antioxidants and resveratrol, which reduces inflammation in the body. The Crete diet study found that grapes gave protection against both nasal allergy symptoms and wheezing.

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