Mzansi’s flowers are in full bloom. Unfortunately this is no cause for celebration for allergy sufferers. But did you know little changes in your diet could bring some relief? Dietician Jandrí Barnard has some tips to help you get through this agonising season.
Little lifestyle changes, including reducing your exposure to allergy triggers like pollen and avoiding certain foods, can alleviate seasonal allergies, says Barnard.
Barnard is a registered dietician and a spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa.
She shares five quick tips for braving it through allergy season:
- Rather go outside after a good rain (clearing pollen from the air) and stay indoors on dry, windy days.
- Delegate lawnmowing, weed pulling and gardening chores that can stir up your allergens further.
- Remove clothes that you have worn outside and shower to rinse pollen from your skin and hair.
- Avoid hanging laundry outside as pollen can stick to sheets and towels.
- Wear a pollen mask outside if you do chores – easy in our mask-wearing era!
Foods to eat to prevent allergies
The treatment of allergies usually involves over-the-counter medication like antihistamines, but lifestyle changes can also assist to relieve symptoms like nose dripping and eye watering.
“When one thinks about food and allergies, your first thought might be to keep certain foods out of your diet to avoid an adverse reaction.”
“But the connection between seasonal allergies and food is limited to a few groups of foods known as cross-reactive foods.”
Barnard recommends adding the following food to your diet to help relieve seasonal allergies:
- Ginger: Relieves inflammatory symptoms like swelling and irritation in the nasal passages, eyes and throat naturally. It contains antioxidative, anti-inflammatory phytochemical compounds.
- Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes, high in vitamin C, has been shown to decrease allergic rhinitis and the irritation of the upper respiratory tract caused by pollen from blooming plants.
- Turmeric: An anti-inflammatory source containing curcumin, which is linked to reducing the symptoms of inflammation-driven diseases and help to minimise the swelling and irritation caused by allergic rhinitis. It can be taken in food, teas or even pills.
- Tomatoes: Another excellent source of vitamin C – 1 medium-sized tomato contains about 26% of your recommended daily value of vitamin C. Additionally, it also contains another antioxidant compound called lycopene, which is more easily absorbed in the body when it’s cooked. Rather use canned or cooked tomatoes for an extra boost.
- Oily fish like salmon: Omega-3 fatty acids from fish can improve allergy resistance and asthma. A study in Germany found that the more eicosapentaenoic (EPA) fatty acids people had in their bloodstream, the less their risk of allergic sensitivity or hay fever. The American Heart Association recommends 230g of salmon, mackerel, sardines or tuna per week for adults to also increase their chance of allergy relief.
Remember that any of these foods are not meant to replace any treatment for seasonal allergies, but rather to assist your overall lifestyle.
“Adjusting dietary choices may allow your body to reduce inflammation and allergic response to savour this beautiful flowering season and not only sneeze your way through,” says Barnard.
Some other dietary changes that may assist hay fever sufferers:
- Drink a cup of unsweetened green tea each morning: This beverage contains antihistamines that have been proven to reduce allergic reactions.
- Adopt a Mediterranean diet plan: Eat fresh, unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, oily fish and olive oil, which may reduce respiratory allergies.
- Follow a healthy, sustainable diet to also decrease any unwanted weight, as obesity can make asthmatics more prone to attacks.
- Avoid foods high in spices during pollen season, as these spices can cause and exacerbate the symptoms of runny eyes and a runny nose.
- Use less salt, as consuming less salt regularly can improve lung function. Salt in processed foods should also be avoided. Rather use fresh herbs to season dishes.
Recipe: Allergy-lowering booster juice
2 oranges, quartered and peeled
1 large carrot, chopped
5 – 8cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cup ice cubes
Add all the ingredients in a high-power blender and blend on high until all the ingredients are smooth and mixed. A cup of water can be added optionally for a more juice-like smoothie.
Recipe: Calming chamomile face wash
Some foods can even help if applied topically, or to serve as a rinsing aid for itchy skin around the eyes. Sounds unusual, but see if this works for you.
Chamomile has anti-inflammatory and soothing effects, not only when ingested as a tea, but also when applied topically to the skin.
Try this chamomile face wash. Apart from rinsing the pollen particles out of your eyelids and face, the calming effects of chamomile will help soothe the irritated skin and can help reduce the itching sensation.
INGREDIENTS AND METHOD
Take 2 teabags of chamomile tea. Steep in 200ml boiling water for 3 minutes. Allow to cool or add an additional 100 ml of cold water to speed up the cooling.
Use the tea to:
- Rinse your face.
- Wash out the area around your eyes.
- Wipe your eyelids and face with a cotton bud dipped into the tea.
- You can even place the teabags on your eyes for additional relief after washing your face.
Why washing your face works
It is often said that rubbing your eyes will just worsen the itching sensation – this is indeed true. Pollen particles when viewed under a microscope have hundreds of hook-like hairy extensions designed to hook onto surfaces to maximise their chances of being caught on the reproductive areas of plants to ensure the next generation. Washing one’s face when struck with itchy eyes is often recommended as it helps remove the pollen molecules that may get stuck in one’s eyelids.