It’s the sound heard around the country …”Aaaachooo”. Spring is in the air…and sadly, so are pollen, dust and other irritants.
There is one explanation for your teary eyes, pounding headaches and incessant sneezing: it’s allergy season. According to the CDC, 50 million Americans suffer from different types of allergic disorders.
Seasonal allergies, occurring in 40% of the population and mostly during the Fall and Spring, account for more than half of the outpatient allergy office visits.
How can we conquer the symptoms of environmental allergies so we can get outside and enjoy Spring? Well, before grabbing the nearest anti-histamine, consider these foods that may be as effective in decreasing your inflammation:
Beta-Glucan and Vitamin E
At this point, most of us have heard that whole grains are better for our health than refined grains. They have more fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Aside from these great nutrients, whole grains are also high in beta-glucan, a soluble dietary fiber composed of glucose polysaccharides. Beta-Glucan is shown to have a beneficial effect on your immune system by stimulating monocytes, macrophages and natural killer cells. As a result, they initiate an immune response to a wide range of pathogens, including the environmental allergens.
Low exposure of beta-glucans during childhood correlates with increased risk of allergic symptoms, whereas high exposure is associated with reduced risk. Supplementing with beta-glucan at a dose of 15 mg/day for eight weeks significantly reduced serum IgE titers, which releases the histamine that makes you itch, along with symptoms of rhinitis and rhinoconjunctivitis.
We cannot make beta-glucan in our bodies, so here are some quality food sources: mushrooms, seaweed, brewer’s yeast or enjoy a whole grain snack like KIND Healthy Grains Oat & Honey Clusters with Greek yogurt.
Vitamin E: Aside from beta-glucan, whole grains have vitamin E, which acts like an antioxidant in our bodies and may help repair cells damaged by allergies and other illnesses. It also helps decrease the level of IgE titers.
When shopping, be sure to check packages to ensure the first ingredient is “whole grain” versus enriched white or wheat flour or you’ll lose the benefits! Breads listed as “100% whole grain” or snacks like oatmeal are a good source of whole grains.
Seeds, leafy greens and nuts are other great sources of vitamin E. So grab some walnuts to go, or for even more convenience and great taste, a KIND Almond Walnut Macadamia bar.
Onions, garlic and apples are a great source of quercetin, which acts like an antihistamine. Quercetin is a potent, water-soluble flavonoid antioxidant also found in kale, watercress, green tea and black tea.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring polyphenolic compounds in many plants that have an anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effect. They also trigger cellular pathways leading to the prevention of many conditions including cancers, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disease.
The quercetin inhibits histamine release from mast cells, keeping your allergic reactions at bay. It controls oxidative stress and decreases inflammation. Quercetin has shown to be just as effective, if not more than, disodium cromoglycate (cromolyn), which is marketed as a mast stabilizer and frequently prescribed for asthma and allergies.
Citrus has the powerful antioxidant Vitamin C, which aside from its normal health benefit, can help allergy sufferers because it counteracts histamine (the substance that contributes to your wheezing, sneezing and itching).
So mix some nuts and a tasty orange for a great, anti-inflammatory punch. Raw green and red veggies like tomatoes, bell peppers, leafy greens and brussel sprouts are also loaded with vitamin C. Make sure to eat them raw sometimes – otherwise, you’ll cook out the vitamin C benefits!
Nothing screams anti-inflammatory more than omega-3 fatty acids. They are your body’s way of decreasing inflammation everywhere. And because your environmental allergies are tied to high inflammation, that triggers your immune system to fight those pesky irritants, you can help minimize symptoms with foods like salmon, sardines, flaxseed, whole grains, nuts, seeds and leafy greens, all high in omega-3’s.
Be sure to eat-up because our bodies do not make omega-3 fats so we need to get them from our food (lucky us!).
Yogurt and kefir both have live cultures, called probiotics, which help improve gut health, the location of 70% of your immune system. Your body produces certain good bacteria, which can help keep the immune system strong and prevent your body from overreacting to allergens.
These natural ways to combat allergies help boost your immune system and lessen the severity of symptoms. Combining your foods, and rotating your meals and snacks, ensures the different components can work synergistically and may further enhance the anti-inflammatory benefits. So, keep your plate palette colorful with fresh whole grains, fruits and vegetables, get creative with on-the-go snack options like KIND bars and all-natural fruit leathers and start enjoying Spring!
Beth Warren, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and a certified dietitian-nutritionist with a masters of science degree in Nutrition. She runs a private practice in Brooklyn, NY where she works as a freelance writer, consultant of businesses and counsels adult and pediatric clients with various medical conditions and weight management.
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