The right foods can help relieve allergies to dust, pollen, mold and other spores in the air-easing symptoms that include sneezing, stuffy nose and wheezing.

Recent finding: Allergy symptoms are less common on the rural Greek island of Crete than elsewhere in Greece, even though there's no shortage of allergens blowing around. According to a study published in Thorax, the people of Crete can thank their diet. Researchers tested 690 island children for airborne allergies and asked their parents to answer questions about their children's diets and symptoms. Eighty percent of the children ate fruit at least twice a day, and 68% ate vegetables that often. Those who ate more nuts, grapes, oranges, apples and tomatoes--the main local products-had fewer allergy symptoms than those who ate less.

Allergy symptoms occur when an overactive immune system responds to harmless substances as if they could cause disease. Inflammation is an early step in the immune response. Most of the foods that relieve allergies are ones that are anti-inflammatory, modulating the immune system response.

Foods That Fight Allergies

The following foods can help in the battle against airborne allergies…

  • Fruits high in vitamin C, an antioxidant, may help reduce inflammation. Year round, eat two pieces of fruit daily. When you're especially congested, choose from these twice a day—an orange, one cup of strawberries, an apple, one cup of grapes or a medium-sized wedge of watermelon.

Bonus: The skins of red grapes are loaded with the antioxidant resveratrol and were found to relieve wheezing in the Crete study.

  • Nuts, especially almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts, are a good source of vitamin E, which helps minimize inflammation. Eat a single one-ounce serving of any of these nuts daily year-round to help prevent symptoms. If you do have symptoms, increase the servings, try two tablespoons of peanut butter and one ounce each of hazelnuts and almonds a day.
  • Cold-water fish (wild salmon, mackerel, trout, herring and sardines), as well as walnuts and flaxseed, contain omega3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation. Eat at least two servings of cold-water fish each week year-round and three servings during the seasons when you experience airborne allergies. Also have 12 walnuts and one tablespoon of ground flaxseed a day.
  • Oysters, shrimp and crab, as well as legumes, whole grains and tofu, are all high in zinc, which has antibacterial and antiviral effects that provide relief for immune systems overtaxed by fighting allergies. Have six oysters, six shrimp or a few crabs every week, and twice that when your allergies bother you. Also have one serving of whole grains and one of beans or tofu a day.
  • Tea, whether green, white or black, is full of flavonoids, plant compounds that reduce inflammation. Tea also increases proteins in the body that fight infection, again relieving an overtaxed immune system. Enjoy one cup daily, and increase to two when your allergies are a problem.

Helpful: Drink your tea first thing in the morning with lemon and honey to stimulate the cilia--the tiny hairs in the nose that sweep pollen and dust out of the way.

  • Horseradish, hot mustard, fennel, anise and sage also stimulate the cilia and act as natural decongestants. Add a dash to food whenever possible.

Foods To Avoid All Year

If you experience congestion or other symptoms year-round, ask an allergist to conduct a skin test to identify allergies to dust, mold and foods. Then consider the following changes in your daily diet...

  • Mold and yeast in food can aggravate an allergy to mold in the air. If you're allergic to mold, avoid foods that contain yeast, such as bread and baked goods (unless they are labeled "yeast free"), beer and spirits... fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and cider... foods that tend to get moldy, such as cheese and mushrooms...vinegar and sauces that contain vinegar, such as mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard and salad dressing

Helpful: Use lemon juice and spices in dressings instead.

  • Milk and dairy products, such as yogurt, butter and ice cream, could be making you feel worse if you have a congested nose year-round, a symptom typically caused by an allergy to dust. One explanation is that casein, the protein in milk, can promote the formation of mucus. Although there isn't strong science showing that milk aggravates congestion, it's worth experimenting by cutting dairy from your diet for at least two weeks. If your allergies improve when you avoid dairy products, eliminate dairy year-round. You will then need to take a calcium supplement, usually 1,000 milligrams (mg) a day, to compensate for the decreased calcium intake that accompanies a dairy-free diet.
  • Soy, corn and wheat. Soy, including soy milk, tofu, soybean oil, edamame and soy sauce, may aggravate chronic congestion, according to clinical observation. Even if you don't appear allergic to soy on a skin-prick test, experiment by eliminating soy from your diet for at least two weeks.

The same is true of corn (including cornflakes, corn chips and corn oil) and wheat (including all breads and baked goods unless they are marked "wheat-free" or "gluten-free"). If you find that your symptoms are alleviated when you stop eating any of these foods, eliminate them year-round.

Allergies May Reduce Cancer Risk

Cancers of the mouth, throat, digestive tract, colon, bladder, uterus, cervix, lung and skin were less common among allergy sufferers.

Theory: Symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and tearing eyes help the body expel environmental toxins that can trigger abnormal cell growth. More research is needed to see if allergy patients would benefit from discontinuing symptom-suppressing medication.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in