Once it’s warm enough to step outside wearing only one outer layer, many of us race to welcome the blooming trees, blossoming flowers, and grass coming back to life. For some, these beautiful signs of spring also bring sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and other discomforts of hay fever that make it hard to want to celebrate the season’s arrival. Those symptoms may last longer this year, as experts predict an unusually long spring pollen season.
If you’re sniffling more than smiling about the warming temperatures, consider adding these four foods to your diet to help ease the irritation. They’ve all proven to potentially fend off seasonal allergies. Although they will not help you in the midst of an allergic reaction, they can help your body feel less inflamed and, therefore, less susceptible to allergies over time. It doesn’t hurt that these ingredients are all delicious and good for you, no matter how you’re feeling.
Onions are so common in recipes that we often overlook their nutritional powers. They’re actually “the most studied food products in relation to their anti-allergic properties,” scientists wrote in a review published last May in the journal Molecules. Much of this research is on quercetin, a strong flavonol found in onions. Quercetin is a bit of an unsung hero: It stimulates the immune system, fights inflammation, and inhibits the release of histamines, which are chemicals that cause allergic reactions. If you are allergic to onions or don’t like them, apples, broccoli, and berries are also good sources of quercetin.
2. Broccoli Sprouts
These days you can find various types of sprouts in most grocery stores. Consider trying broccoli sprouts, which many people say taste like radishes. In a 2014 study published in Food & Function, UCLA researchers first exposed 29 adults to diesel exhaust particles (DEP) and recorded how their bodies reacted. Then, after those people took a broccoli sprout extract daily for four days, they were exposed to the DEP again. This time, their white blood cell response was 54 percent lower. Researchers say eating broccoli or broccoli sprouts may help reduce the impact of particulate pollution on people with allergies and asthma. Added bonus: These little sprouts have shown to help the body detoxify unwanted materials and have even been associated with down-regulating cells that move our bodies in the direction of cancer. Credit a powerful antioxidant called sulforaphane.
Broccoli sprouts are easy to add to any salad and great on top of tuna or avocado toast. I also have a patient who makes a broccoli sprout sandwich: Spread a romaine or butter lettuce leaf with your favorite condiment and add broccoli sprouts, shredded carrot, and/or shredded jicama.
Turmeric has long been used in the Ayurvedic medical system to treat seasonal allergies, and there are thousands of studies demonstrating its efficacy. Much of this focuses on curcumin, an anti-inflammatory substance in turmeric. For example, taking curcumin capsules improved airway obstruction for 77 patients with bronchial asthma in a 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Curcumin’s ability to reduce inflammation also helps with our body’s natural reaction to allergies.
Many people will add turmeric to scrambled eggs, soups, and beans. Simply add as much as pleases your taste buds. My favorite way to use it is in a tea:
- 2 teaspoons fresh or powdered turmeric
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- Natural sweetener (optional)
- Fresh lemon juice (optional)
1. Simmer turmeric and ginger in 12 to 16 ounces of water for 10 minutes. Then cover and let steep a few minutes.
2. Strain, adding sweetener and lemon juice, if desired. (Some hard-core turmeric-ginger tea drinkers prefer not to strain their tea and eat the spices. This is more therapeutic, but not for everyone.)
Bromelain, a mixture of enzymes found in pineapple, has been analyzed for its anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antiedematous, and antithrombotic properties. In animal studies, Eric Secor of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine discovered that bromelain reduces the immune system’s reaction to allergens and limits airway inflammation. Naturopaths have used high concentrations of bromelain for decades as a first-line of defense before using NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Some surgeons even prescribe it for patients post-operation because it can make a remarkable difference in swelling.