Take a moment to think about the last meal you ate. Did it smell good? Did it look appetizing? Was it balanced?
Eating is more than just a means of survival. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, preparing and eating food takes up at least one hour of our time each day. Whether meals are social, comforting, nostalgic, or simply necessary, they’re a part of everyone’s daily life.
Those of us living with asthma know that this condition can also take up a good portion of our day-to-day life.
I’ve lived with asthma most of my life, and so finding ways to cope with its impact on my day-to-day is nothing new. But after being diagnosed with a gluten intolerance and food allergies a few years ago, I had to make some serious changes to my diet. It made me wonder how my general diet, or even certain foods, were impacting my overall health — including my asthma.
How does food actually make me feel? What does it mean to eat well with asthma? What does the intersection of managing asthma and diet look like?
The role your diet plays
Everyone’s approach to food is different. Some people prefer planning out their meals, making sure to get the right amount of nutrients. Others are a bit more impulsive with their choices and opt for what they’re craving at the moment. I like to think, however, that most people want to both enjoy their meals and nourish their bodies at the same time.
We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat” — so, if the saying is to be believed, if you eat well, you will be well. However, if you eat a lot of processed “junk” foods, chances are your body may not feel or function at its best. When it comes to asthma, that same logic may hold true.
In fact, one study found that high intake of fast food was associated with increased risk of severe asthma in children and adolescents. The same study found that regular consumption of fruits and vegetables had a protective effect against asthma symptoms.
A few years back, I’d started noticing that my asthma symptoms would flare up when I ate certain foods — specifically fried foods. I mentioned it to my dietician. She told me that certain foods cause more inflammation than others, and that inflammation could be affecting my asthma symptoms.
For example, refined carbohydrates, soda, red meat, margarine, and to my despair, French fries, all tend to cause inflammation. I love fries, but I’ve noticed that when I eat them in large amounts, it becomes difficult to breathe. As with all good things, moderation is key!
There is also some evidence that certain diets and foods may help or hinder asthma control. The Western diet and the Mediterranean diet are two of the most commonly studied diets, and each has an inverse relationship when it comes to the consumption of fruits and vegetables versus sweets and fats.
The typical Western diet may promote a pro-inflammatory environment while the Mediterranean diet accomplishes the exact opposite. These differences could also account for poor asthma control as well as future risk of complications.
While a balanced diet certainly promotes general health benefits, there isn’t conclusive evidence that one diet or set of foods guarantees better health outcomes over another when it comes to asthma. More evidence is needed for future recommendations, and you should always consult your doctor about controlling your asthma through dietary habits.
Diet and asthma
While there’s no “asthma diet” that can control your symptoms, the available research shows that eating more fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory foods can help promote overall health and may have a positive effect on asthma symptoms.
During my own health journey, I’ve learned that a healthy diet is about more than just weight loss or latching onto the latest fad. Eating well is a lifestyle, and it may take some time to find what works well for you. A nutrient-rich diet, exercise, and treating your body with love are all equally important for good health, and they are just a few components of your asthma management plan.
When working with your doctor to find a treatment plan to manage your asthma symptoms, don’t overlook the importance of nutrition. Pay attention to foods that make you feel unwell, as they may be triggering asthma symptoms — especially if you have food allergies. Educate yourself about eating well and how to get the right nutrients, and ask your doctor for tips and recommendations if you get stuck. Try new things and get creative!
Of course, there will be some hurdles. I initially struggled with meal planning and making healthy choices when dining out at restaurants, but with a little time and advanced planning it’s possible to make it work.
The work you put in will pay off in the long haul. Healthy eating habits can change your life, in the best ways possible, and being more intentional with what you eat may help you manage your symptoms and your health in the long run. If you’re not sure how to start the journey, talk to your doctor.
RESP-US-NP-00080 September 2018