Photo of grocery basket with fresh food and lung graphic

Q: Do certain foods cause asthma symptoms to flare up? Are there any foods to avoid?

Neeta Ogden, MD: Research studies do not directly link specific foods to asthma flares – however, there are some important dietary considerations to keep in mind if you have asthma.

1) Eat a healthy diet:

  • Vitamin D – people with asthma and allergies have been found to have low vitamin D levels. Check your vitamin D level and then maintain normal levels, through both a dietary supplement and getting extra sunshine. This may help keep asthma symptoms at bay.
  • Fruits and vegetables –good sources of antioxidants like vitamins C, E and flavonoids. Fruits and vegetable have an anti-inflammatory effect that may improve asthma and prevent symptoms.
  • Fish and other sources of Omega 3 – they also have an anti-inflammatory effect that may prevent asthma flares.

2) Avoid foods with sulfites. Some studies link sulfites – an additive that serves as a food preservative – to triggering asthma in those with moderate to severe symptoms. Sulfites are found in wine, dried fruit, pickles, shrimp and condiments. Sulfites also naturally occur in vegetables such as asparagus and onions and can be found in corn starch and soy.

Sulfites are found in ingredients with these names: sulfur dioxide, sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite and potassium metabisulfite. However not everyone with asthma will experience symptoms. If you feel you’re sensitive to foods with sulfites, keep a food diary and avoid those foods that contain sulfites to see if there is improvement.

3) If you have food allergies, avoid the foods containing your allergen. Accidental exposure to foods to which you have a true IgE-mediated food allergy can trigger an allergic reaction which can have mild to severe symptoms, including asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

4) Maintain a healthy weight in general. Obesity and weight gain can worsen asthma symptoms because they put more of a demand on your lungs.

Neeta Ogden, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist in practice in Edison, New Jersey. She serves as a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

Have a medical question? Email or write to Ask the Allergist, Allergy & Asthma Network, 8229 Boone Blvd., Suite 260, Vienna, VA 22182.