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Do food choices affect Asthma?

Asthma affects just under 2.7 million Australians - that’s 1 out of 10 of us! When people with asthma feel supported, they manage their asthma better. Many asthmatics are interested in whether lifestyle choices, including diet, may have an impact on this condition. Recent evidence shows that, in fact, it does! Let’s look at how Dietitians can support asthmatics.

What is Asthma?

Coughing, wheezing, and shallow breathing are just some of the symptoms experienced by those who suffer from asthma, but what exactly is this condition? Asthma is the most common disease of the respiratory system, which mainly involves the lungs.

For those without asthma, being exposed to car exhaust, smoke or dust in large amounts can cause irritation, or inflammation, of our lungs. If you’ve experienced this before, it might have led to a fit of coughing or wheezing, and you might have even found it difficult to breathe for a few moments.

However, for those with asthma, their lungs are in a state of chronic, or long-term inflammation, and are hypersensitive to the environment. Even small amounts of things like smoke, dust, pollen, fragrances, pollution, exercise, and stress, can act as environmental triggers, which can quickly cause what we call an “asthmatic reaction”. Passages in the lungs swell, becoming narrower, making it difficult to breathe. The lungs also create mucus, which the body normally uses to trap and clear irritating particles, like pollen or dust. But, during an asthma attack, this substance can further block the air passages, making it even harder to breathe. Together, these lead to the many uncomfortable symptoms experienced during an asthma attack.

Medical Treatments

Fortunately, modern medicine has made living with this disease much more manageable. Inhalers, which can be prescribed by your GP, are the first line of defence, and deliver medication which relaxes the muscles of the air passages, opening the airways and relieving symptoms. Other medicines may also be necessary, depending on your individual needs.

What food can help my Asthma symptoms?

A balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, wholegrains, fatty fish, and low in red meat and processed foods like biscuits, chips and chocolates have been shown to reduce the severity of asthma symptoms. This may be in part due to antioxidants found in healthy foods, which have an “anti-inflammatory” effect. This can be helpful to control and soothe inflammatory conditions, including asthma. Exercise also has anti-inflammatory effects and has been shown to reduce symptoms.

Top nutrition tips for asthmatics

Here are a few quick, evidence-based changes you can make to help battle inflammation:

  1. Have 2 serves of fruits, and 5 serves of vegetables per day. Get a rainbow of colours, as different colours indicate different antioxidants.

  2. Have 2 serves of fatty fish per week, which are rich in omega 3, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel.

  3. Choose lean and unprocessed meats, over processed ones.

  4. Have 1 handful of nuts daily.

The Milk and Mucus Myth

In the age of the internet, many myths linking foods with asthma have popped up, and milk is one of the most popular. However, there is little evidence to suggest that dairy foods contribute to asthma. This connection may be due to the thickening effect dairy can have on saliva, which might confuse some people into thinking they are having an asthmatic reaction. Unless you have a diagnosed dairy allergy or don’t want to consume dairy for ethical reasons, foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese are very healthy, and should be included daily as part of a balanced diet.

What about Children?

Follow the Top Nutrition Tips for Asthmatics above. Being physically active and following a healthy diet is great for all children, especially important for asthmatics. Some extra tips:

  • Provide a large variety of items from the 5 food groups for a range of nutrients to help with optimal development in children.

  • 5 serves of vegetables per day (serve grilled or roast veg for variety)

  • 2 serves of fruit per day

  • Vitamin D: eggs, sardines, tuna, salmon, mushrooms and even Vitamin D fortified milk or cereal

  • Omega-3 Fats and fish: fun tuna sandwiches cut into cookie cutter shapes, homemade tuna or fish cakes, cut fish fillets into strong and bake, marinate fish in favourite flavours

  • Dairy: milk is a good source of magnesium and calcium.

Book in with one of our amazing Dietitians to chat more detail about things to look out for such as food colourings, trans fats, sulphites, MSG, salicylates.

How can Dietitians help asthmatics?

Making changes to any part of our lifestyle, and forming new habits, can be difficult for anyone. Luckily, Accredited Practising Dietitians (like us!), who are nutrition experts, can help to provide personalised advice and develop strategies that work for you. We take into consideration your individual needs and ultimately help to tailor your diet into one that would be the most effective at combating your asthma.


Joseph Gregory, Accredited Practising Dietitian at OSCAR Care Group


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