Eating healthy to reduce asthma risk

As Chicagoans well know, the rate of asthma and allergies is on the rise. Just why it’s more common puzzles pediatricians and epidemiologists alike. Proposed causes include exposure to environmental pollutants or even overly clean living spaces. We have long known about a dietary connection, and now a new study in the journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology finds that eating fish and certain vegetables can help prevent asthma and allergy symptoms in children.

Nutrition connection

Researchers followed a group of 460 children on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Menorca from conception to the age of 6 1/2. The children who ate an average of 2 ounces of fish and 1½ ounces of"fruity vegetables” daily were significantly less likely to suffer the wheezing and other symptoms common to childhood asthma. Fruity vegetables include cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, green beans and zucchini.

What the children consumed was not the only thing that counted. Their mother’s diet while they were still in the womb did, too. Women who ate fish regularly during pregnancy had children with less asthma and respiratory allergies.

Lead researcher Dr. Leda Chatzi cannot say with certainty just what biological mechanism makes the vegetables and fish work. But she does suspect these foods reduce airway inflammation by protecting airway cells from damage due to free radicals.

Maternal diet

A related study recently published in the journal Thorax found that mothers who eat apples during pregnancy may help their child avoid the risk of asthma. In addition, a diet that includes plenty of oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, during pregnancy was linked to a reduction in eczema. Previous studies on pregnancy have linked a maternal diet rich in food sources of vitamin E, vitamin D and zinc as being protective.

Your child’s diet

If your child suffers from wheezing and other asthma symptoms, he should avoid any food that seems to trigger an attack. Adding oily fish and fruity vegetables may be a helpful addition to the medical therapy your pediatrician has prescribed.

Oily fish include herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, salmon, tuna, halibut and cod. Tuna fish salad sandwiches are popular for lunch, but tuna can be too high in mercury to eat more than once or twice a week. Try substituting canned salmon for tuna. It’s low in mercury and almost always caught in the wild, therefore low in the PCBs often found in farm-raised salmon.

These studies add to the body of research that supports the health benefits of a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, as well as fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Getting the children to eat veggies can be more challenging, depending on the child and the family dynamics. A recent study found children’s aversion to certain vegetables can be genetic. And in some families, parents may not always serve as positive vegetable-eating role models. Preparation-style can make vegetables more attractive to both children and adults. Tomatoes can be tucked into sandwiches or incorporated into spaghetti sauces, soups and even pizza sauce. If your child considers them yucky, offer juicy sweet grape tomatoes as a snack or part of a meal. Most kids like them. Cucumbers served in slices or wedges, with or without dip, may be an easier sell. Some kids may prefer the seeds removed, simple enough if they are in long wedges. Green beans are usually accepted by children, especially if they’re steamed and offered as finger food. Zucchini can be grated and incorporated into quick breads, meatloaf and meatballs, as well as being roasted or grilled. Eggplant can be grilled, or turned into dips like baba ghanoush.

Dear Good Sense Eating: Are there foods suspected of triggering asthma attacks?

Yes, but most people with asthma are generally affected by only two or three foods. Observant parents can help identify these foods. What are the most common triggers? Milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, shrimp, fish, oranges, grapefruit, soy foods and wheat. Some children are sensitive to additives such as sulfur, monosodium glutamate (MSG), tartrazine and benzoic acid common to processed or convenience foods. Luckily, most kids outgrow these allergies.

Apple cheddar pizza with toasted pecans


• 1 (12 ounce can) refrigerated, ready-made pizza dough

• Vegetable oil cooking spray

• 3 large apples, thinly sliced

• 1 cup apple juice

• 1 tablespoon cornstarch

• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 2 tablespoons honey

• 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans

• 1 cup grated white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat a 14-inch pizza pan with cooking spray. Press dough into pizza pan. Cook apples in apple juice until tender. Drain off juice and mix the juice with cinnamon and honey. Place apple slices on dough. Dissolve cornstarch in apple juice mixture. Cook the mixture over medium heat until it becomes a clear sauce. Spread sauce over apples. Top with pecans and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Serves 8.

Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 9 g total fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 7 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 15 mg cholesterol, 3 g dietary fiber, 370 mg sodium

Source: U.S. Apple Association

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, is a registered dietitian in private practice in Naperville. She is glad to finally know the answer to the question,"Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?” She can be reached at (630) 369-8495 or

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