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Asthma and Children’s Diets: Fruits and Vegetables May Protect Kids from Asthma and Allergies

by Dr. Randy

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Children in rural Crete have an especially low incidence of allergies and wheezing (asthma). The diet among this population is typically high in locally grown fruits and vegetables. These facts led researchers to examine whether there was an association between diet and allergies in these children.

What they found can reassure and inspire us all as parents to pursue a healthy whole foods diet for our children.

The study included 690 children aged 7 to 18 years living in rural areas of Crete. Parents completed a food questionnaire that rated intake on a scale of six from never to more than once per day for each category of foods. The foods in the survey included vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, cereal, dairy products, meat, poultry, and margarine. Parents also completed a symptom questionnaire that included a current history (in the past 12 months) of respiratory and allergic symptoms.

They discovered that children with a daily consumption of grapes, oranges, apples, and fresh tomatoes had less asthma. Eating oranges, but not other fruits, was associated with less nasal allergies. Eating nuts more than three times per week was also associated with less wheezing.

Consuming margarine, however, showed a correlation with more wheezing and allergies. Other suspect food items, such as fast foods and fried foods, were not included in the study. Other studies have shown an increased incidence of asthma in children consuming fast foods.

The traditional Mediterranean diet contains a high proportion of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, and is high in essential fatty acids, fiber, polyphenols from olive oil, and vitamins E and C. In this study children with a primarily Mediterranean diet had a lower incidence of nasal allergies and nighttime coughing.

The message from this study is clearly that children with allergies may benefit from eating a diet with a high proportion of fruits and vegetables, and that this type of diet may be preventive for allergies and asthma as well. Parents would do well to make fruits available to children throughout the day, pack fruits in school and camp lunches, and avoid processed foods with added sugar and corn syrup. Never use margarine. And don’t forget to include nuts in children’s diets as well (including walnuts, pecans, and almonds).

Chatzi L, et al. Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete. Thorax. 2007 Apr 5; [Epub ahead of print]

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