Star foods for asthma: almond, blackcurrant, broccoli, brown rice, carrot, chilli, cinnamon, clove, fresh tuna, garlic, ginger, herring, horseradish, lemon, lime, mackerel, mango, millet, papaya, parsley, quinoa, red pepper, Salmon, squash, sunflower seed, thyme, watercress
Asthma is an inflammatory respiratory condition that causes difficulty in breathing. Symptoms can range from a dry cough, which is particularly bad at night, to a tight chest and heavy wheezing. It is caused by the constriction and swelling of the child's airways due to spasms in the bronchial tubes of the lungs. During an attack, there is also an increase in mucus secretions, which further inhibits the movement of air. An asthma attack can be fatal, so it is vital to seek medical advice if your child develops the condition.
Asthma tends to be more common in boys than girls and also where there is a familial history of allergic conditions such as hay fever or eczema. A child who has eczema as a baby has a higher risk of going on to develop asthma as a child. It is a disease that now affects one in five children in the UK, making it the country's most prevalent childhood illness (National Asthma Campaign).
Worldwide, asthma in children has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. Various factors have been blamed for this increase, including environmental pollution and the fact that children in the developed world eat less fish, fruit and vegetables and consume more fatty foods than they did two decades ago. Also, our houses have become better insulated and can therefore retain certain known triggers of asthma, such as dust mites, moulds and pollen.
Every asthmatic child will have her own particular set of triggers that may precipitate an attack and these are important to identify and avoid. Common triggers are cigarette smoke, dust and dust mites, pets, pollen, exercise, exposure to cold weather, colds and viral infections, food additives, moulds, stress, laughter, some medicines such as aspirin, and cleaning products and perfumes.
Medicinal foods for asthma
Certain food additives can also trigger an asthma attack in susceptible children so, if you have an asthmatic child, get to know your food labels. It is wise to avoid all benzoates (E210-219), sulphites (E220-228), gallates (E310-312) and yellow colourings (E102, E104 and E110). In addition, BHA (E320) and BHT (E321), which are added to certain oils and fats, should also be avoided.
A child with asthma should be on a wholefood diet full of fruits and vegetables, grains, lean proteins and without unnecessary saturated fat or sugar. They should eat plenty of foods rich in magnesium, a natural bronchodilator that can help to prevent spasms of the bronchial passages. Studies have shown that magnesium levels are often low in asthmatics. Good food sources of magnesium include nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and unsulphured dried fruit.
Incorporating plenty of oily fish into your child's diet also has a beneficial effect if she suffers from asthma. Mackerel, salmon, fresh tuna, sardines, herring and fresh anchovies are marvellous sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which suppress the formation of leukotrienes that can cause the bronchial tubes to constrict. If your child is asthmatic, prepare a meal of oily fish once a week to ensure she receives the omega-3 fats she needs.
Asthmatics tend to be low in B-vitamins and in vitamin C. These vitamins are not stored in the body, so need to be consumed on a daily basis. Foods rich in B-vitamins include wholegrains, pulses and green leafy vegetables and may help asthmatics, particularly those whose attacks are brought on by stress. Vitamin C is found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, especially guava, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, blackcurrants and peppers. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which means that it boosts your child's health generally by battling the harmful free radicals in the body that can cause disease and, more specifically in relation to asthma, it can help to strengthen the lungs and mucous membranes.
Other foods rich in antioxidants are those containing vitamins A and E, and the minerals zinc, copper and selenium. Flavonoids, the phytonutrients found in many fruits and green vegetables, also have strong antioxidant properties. Make sure that your child eats five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to maintain a decent intake of antioxidants. A good rule of thumb is to remember that the more colourful the fruit or vegetable, the greater its antioxidant content.
Asthmatics should drink plenty of water and diluted fruit juices as these help to thin mucus secretions. Cooking with plenty of warming spices is also beneficial for the lungs. Such spices, which include ginger, chilli and cinnamon, have antiseptic and expectorant properties and can help relieve the symptoms of asthma.
Extracted from Immunity Foods for Healthy Kids by Lucy Burney, text © 2004, published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London.