Spring has arrived! As invigorating as it is to see the world bursting into bloom, for some of us spring fever and hay fever go hand in hand. But allergy medications can be counterproductive, drying out the mucus membranes, working against the body’s desire to flush away the allergens, and causing unwanted side effects like drowsiness. This year, try these dietary approaches to managing environmental allergies.
1. Limit foods that contain histamines. When you experience allergy symptoms — runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes — you are reacting to histamines, which are released in your body in response to allergens. This is why people take anti-histamines to control allergies. Some foods naturally contain histamines, so limiting these foods during peak allergy times could help keep symptoms at a minimum. Some of the worst offenders are alcohol, aged cheeses, fermented foods, and processed meats.
2. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids in foods like salmon, sardines, chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are anti-inflammatory and can help quench some of the inflammation triggered by seasonal allergies. To get enough omega-3s, eat salmon or other omega-3 rich fish three times a week, or take a daily fish oil supplement. Chia seeds are an economical vegetarian alternative to fish, and add protein and crunch to smoothies, hot cereals, salads or baked goods. Try this recipe for chia seed pudding.
3. Eat foods that contain quercetin. Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that blocks the release of histamines. It can be found in citrus fruits, garlic, parsley, apples, broccoli, tea, and dark berries (blackberries, blueberries). For the best chance against seasonal allergies, eat quercetin-rich foods year-round.
4. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are a triple threat to seasonal allergies: they boost the immune system, protect cells against damage, and have anti-inflammatory properties that can help control reactions to allergens. Vitamin C, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, citrus fruits, red and green bell peppers and strawberries, has anti-histamine properties in addition to being a powerful antioxidant. Throughout the year, but especially during allergy season, make sure to eat your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
5. Spice it up! In addition to adding loads of flavor to meals, spicy foods like onions, garlic, horseradish, chili peppers, and ginger are your allies in the battle against allergies. These foods are anti-inflammatory, calming the body’s overreaction to allergens. Some of these foods also help thin the mucus to alleviate nasal and sinus congestion.
One more thing: blowing your nose and sneezing a lot can be dehydrating, so drink more fluids than usual when you’re having an allergy attack. If you have a juicer, try this immune booster shot. Warm liquids like the infusion below can soothe the throat and ease sinus congestion.
Soothing Lemon Ginger Infusion
- Juice of 2 lemons
- large knob of ginger (about 1 ½ inches long)
- Honey to taste
- Optional: Pinch of cayenne pepper
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
- Add several slices of ginger (I use 4-5 slices) to the water.
- Simmer 10-20 minutes. The ginger flavor will be stronger and spicier the longer you cook it.
- Remove from heat.
- Add lemon juice. Sweeten with honey to taste and add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.
Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4-5 days. Reheat gently but do not boil as this will “kill off” some of the vitamin C.
- Meal planning help: Seven days of allergy fighting meals.
Carol White, MS, RD, CD, has her Master’s degree in nutrition from Bastyr University and a Bachelor’s degree in writing. Blogging about nutrition allows her to blend her dual passions for writing and nutrition education. She currently works as a clinical dietitian in several skilled nursing facilities in the Seattle area.