For those of you dealing with seasonal allergies, you know that stuffy noses and watery eyes aren’t just annoying – they can also dampen your enthusiasm to get outside for a run. Additionally, allergies can often make you tired during the day, caused in part by blocked nasal passages that disrupt good sleep.
If pollen and airborne mold spores trigger seasonal allergies for you (aka if you suffer from outdoor allergies, hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis), before resorting to staying indoors or loading up on antihistamines such as Claratine or intranasal corticosteroids such as Flonase that can often make you drowsy and sluggish, why not try adjusting your diet first?
When the body’s immune system reacts to irritants such as pollen, histamine is released and inflammation results. This causes mucus, itchiness and other bothersome symptoms. But fear not! Eating foods that decrease the manufacturing and release of histamine and/or decrease inflammation should help reduce symptoms.
Plus, if you continue to eat these foods year round, you may build up a stronger immune system overall so you won’t have to deal with seasonal allergies next year!
Here are 8 foods that may help you to overcome or lessen symptoms of your allergies:
1. Apples – An apple a day keeps allergies away? Well, maybe not all on their own, but apples are a rich source of quercetin (most is found in the peel). Researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Japan found seasonal allergy sufferers taking quercetin had a 96 percent decrease in histamine release. Other foods that are rich in quercetin include berries like blueberries and strawberries, grapefruit, onions, cabbage, tea and red wine (sorry to be a downer but as great as that last one sounds, please note that wine can aggregate and even cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis in some individuals).
2. Chia Seeds / Wild Salmon – Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their ability to act as potent anti-inflammatories. Chia seeds are one of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3s, while salmon is one of the best sources of already-converted EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acid. Other great sources of omega-3s include hemp hearts, walnuts, flaxseeds, halibut, mackerel and sardines. Long-term, consistent intake of omega-3s has been shown to strengthen the immune system. If your immune system is functioning properly, seasonal allergies shouldn’t bother you.
3. Pumpkin Seeds – Pumpkin seeds are the best food source for magnesium (one serving provides 95% of the daily recommended intake!) – and magnesium is known to calm muscular contractions. In this case, magnesium can act to relax the airways, smooth muscles and dilate the lungs – which may help alleviate any asthma symptoms brought on by allergies. Magnesium has also been shown to reduce inflammation and increase anti-inflammatory substances. Raw cacao is also a good source of magnesium.
4. Hot Ginger Tea – Any tea (any hot, clear liquid, for that matter) will help to break up congestion in your nasal passages and airways, making it easier to breathe when allergy symptoms hit. As an added bonus, ginger is known to be a strong anti-inflammatory that can help suppress the inflammation caused by the release of histamines.
5. Turmeric – This spice is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory spices known. While it’s a great tool for prevention in smaller doses (¼ tsp per day or so), you’ll want to use at least 1 tsp per day to help fight off allergy symptoms. Try mixing together 1 tsp each of turmeric, raw honey and lemon juice plus a pinch of ground black pepper (which helps with absorption of the turmeric), add hot water and drink up! If the flavour’s a bit too much for you, you might also hide it in smoothies or add it to stir-fries, soups, chills, etc.
6. Olive oil – Olive oil is a relatively good source of coenzyme Q10 (160mg/kg – compared to beef at 40mg/kg, which is often quoted as a great source). Coenzyme Q10 has been shown to decrease production of histamine. Furthermore, olives and olive oil are staples in the Mediterranean diet, which researches have determined is correlated to decreased rates of wheezing and rhinitis. The Mediterranean diet includes olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Well, and red wine – but as for wine, please see comment above!
7. Natural Sunlight (vitamin D) – Okay, I know: this isn’t food! However, research has drawn a correlation between vitamin D and reduction of seasonal allergy symptoms. I prefer to use supplements only when absolutely necessary, recommending whole food sources first and foremost. With this in mind, and because vitamin D is one vitamin that is not naturally found in plant foods, natural sunlight is my recommended source. When UV levels are below 3 you can safely get 2-3 hours of sunlight, and when they are higher than 3, about 10 minutes of sun is required for optimal vitamin D levels (apply sunscreen after this amount of time). Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines contain some naturally occurring vitamin D, as well.
While these foods are a great idea to include in your diet if you suffer from seasonal allergies, there are a few foods you many want to try avoiding, too.
First, pollen allergies can be intensified in some individuals upon eating melon and cantaloupe, cucumbers, bananas, sunflower seeds, chamomile or echinacea. Those with grass allergies may react to peaches, celery or pineapple.
Secondly, some people find their symptoms are relieved or lessened by cutting back on dairy. Dairy is not only a mucous forming food, it is also one of the most commonly found food sensitivities.
And lastly, wheat, gluten and alcohol have all been found to aggravate seasonal allergies in some individuals. Beer and wine are specifically known to trigger nasal congestion.
Beat the stuffy nose, itchy eyes and fatigue with a few whole foods and some natural sunlight, and you may well be on the road to a more enjoyable running season!
Eat clean, run strong, be well… Cheers, Sarah | Sarah J Cuff, RHN
PS. Check out Maggie Matthew’s story here – she came to me with problems with weight gain, bloating, bad muscle soreness after workouts, lack of energy during workouts & side effects from pre-menopausal hormonal changes. She was pretty sure she wasn’t doing too bad with her diet as a non red meat eater… And then she discovered the tips and tricks she needed in order to lose that excess weight, recover faster after her workouts and balance out her hormone levels… Click here to read Maggie’s story!