Natural Ways to Prevent Your Child’s Allergies
Part 1 of 2
Spring is upon us. Flowers — and allergies — are in full bloom.
Are there natural steps that parents can take, to prevent or lessen children’s seasonal allergies? Yes, there are many.
Let’s examine one of the most important ways to prevent allergies: eating foods that help prevent them.
Strengthen Your Child’s Immunity with Foods
Whether it be seasonal allergies, food allergies, eczema or asthma, these imbalances are the result of a child’s immune system having been attacked somewhere along the way — such as when babies are fed solid foods too soon, before their guts can properly digest them, or when babies are not breastfed, thereby missing out on countless immunity-strengthening compounds that the child should have received. Allergies can also develop as a result of toxic artificial chemicals or chemical residues present in many modern-day foods we eat. Some assaults on a child’s immunity can even occur before he or she was born or conceived — as in the case of children whose mother or grandmother smoked cigarettes during pregnancy, for example; children with this family history are more likely to develop asthma.
No matter what’s causing your child’s allergies, the best way to strengthen his or her immune system is by feeding him or her foods that are known to help the body withstand allergens and fight inflammation, which is directly linked to allergic reactions.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain literally thousands of different plant nutrients that promote healthy body function and help the body’s cells fight off stressors (stressors can be common allergens, air pollution, or even the effects of not getting a full night’s sleep, which also weakens immunity).
Fruits and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet that will promote good health, both in the short and the long term. But they also contain substances that are known natural antihistamines — natural compounds that will help fight off allergic reactions such as runny noses, watery eyes, skin itchiness and asthma attacks.
These compounds, called flavonoids, come in different varieties. They are classified under the umbrella category of “antioxidants,” natural chemicals that also fight bacteria, viruses and fungi, and help the body’s cells stay healthy and strong.
The flavonoids quercetin, anthocyanins and carotenoids are known to have allergy-fighting properties. Regularly eat fruits and vegetables rich in these, and it’s a lot like taking allergy medicines, but without the harmful laboratory chemicals or side effects!
Fruits and vegetables rich in one, two or all of these powerful, inflammation-fighting flavonoids:
- Citrus fruits
- Apples (buy organic, to avoid pesticide residue on the peels)
- Berries: strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries (buy organic when available)
- Onions (especially red onions)
- Broccoli (buy organic when available)
- Parsley (buy organic when available)
- Cilantro (buy organic when available)
- Green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, etc.; buy organic when available)
- Red cabbage
- Radishes (buy organic when available)
- Sweet potatoes
- Carrots (buy organic when available)
- Purple corn
- Spices*: turmeric, ginger, basil, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, spearmint, cinnamon
*Never underestimate the disease-fighting power of spices! Brimming with antioxidants, they are tops for fighting inflammation, germs and many maladies — including allergies. The benefits of turmeric and ginger for digestive and immune health are legendary, and you should make it a habit to use spices in your dishes and desserts often.
As an allergy-fighting tea, stir about a third of a teaspoon of turmeric powder, or some thin slices of fresh ginger root — or both — in a cup of hot water; allow to cool off and let your child enjoy.
Spices are at their most flavorful when fresh, though dried spices will also add wonderful flavor, antioxidants, nutrients and fiber to dishes, soups, salads, desserts and teas.
Another plant compound known to fight allergies is the enzyme bromelain, found in pineapples.
If your child eats five servings of these fruits and vegetables a day, his or her allergies should improve greatly.
Try different fruits and vegetables, to see which he or she prefers, and also, to reap different nutrients present in different produce. Make it a point to serve your family fruits and vegetables of different, lively colors. (Avoid giving your child any fruits or vegetables that upset their stomach or that trigger allergic symptoms; just keep trying different ones that are well-tolerated.)
Eating one fruit or vegetable, once a day, is not enough, to reap the allergy-fighting benefits. You need to continually nourish your child’s body with the nutrients found in the above produce; instead of candy bars or Cheetos, your child should snack on fruits and vegetables as much as possible. Dress fruits with some yogurt, if desired; use hummus or mustard as a dip for chopped vegetables, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, etc. Dairy products, hummus or mustard (which is made with turmeric) add other important, healthy nutrients to the snack. (Read ingredients label on store-bought hummus, to make sure it is all-natural, with no artificial preservatives.)
What about fruit juices?
With the current epidemic of obesity, fruit juices have gotten an unfortunate bad rap from some public health advocates. Some nutritionists believe that children should not drink juices because of the calories or high sugar content. But that problem is easily solved by simply diluting natural fruit juice with plenty of water. For example, pour 3 oz of orange juice or grape juice or cranberry/pomegranate Ocean Spray 100% Juice into an 8-oz glass (for a young child), and fill with water. If you add carbonated water, it will taste like a soda — without the chemicals or lots of sugar in sodas.
One way to get the fighting power of flavonoids without any sugar at all is to get your child accustomed to drinking the juice of half a lemon diluted in an 8-oz glass of water. This can be warmed up, so that your child’s system will absorb it even faster. It’s important to strengthen your child’s immune system even when no allergy symptoms are present; that way, when an allergen comes along, the body will be ready to fight it.
Another winner for allergies is green tea, which tastes good plain or with a little fresh lemon juice, or milk and honey. (Buying honey made by a local manufacturer will teach your child’s immune system to tolerate local pollens.) Antioxidants in green tea called polyphenols have been found to stabilize the cells in the body involved in the release of excess histamine into the blood. Someone who suffers from allergies year-round would do well to make a habit of drinking a cup of green tea several times a week or daily.
Stay Hydrated During Allergy Season
That brings us to the subject of drinking plenty of water and other healthy fluids. When your child is suffering from allergies, it is important that they stay properly hydrated, especially when they’re experiencing watery eyes, runny nose and the like. But even if those symptoms are not present, drinking water will help flush out the allergens from your child’s system, reducing allergic symptoms. So, during allergy season, it’s extra-important to ensure that your child drinks plenty of good, purified water.
Foods High in Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes; they are also required by the body to make many other chemicals, including those involved in regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses. Because they help fight inflammation, they protect against allergies, and new studies are finding that they may also help prevent other autoimmune, inflammation-related illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease, lupus and cancer.
Until recently, health experts were advising people to watch the ratio of Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 fatty acids acquired from foods. But newer studies have led researchers to conclude that it is best to not worry so much about ratios; rather, to focus on getting plenty of both types of these fatty acids. (Source: Harvard School of Public Health.)
Foods rich in both Omega-3 and / or Omega-6 fatty acids include:
- Dairy: Milk, cheeses, yogurt, etc.
- Fatty fish, including: wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, halibut, trout and sardines
- Beef, including organ meats (grass-fed meats have the highest Omega 3 and 6 content)
- Vegetable and seed cooking oils (corn, soybean, flaxseed, safflower, canola)
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, etc.
- Some dark-green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens
- Seeds: sunflower, sesame
Dietitians recommend several servings daily of a variety of foods rich in anti-inflammatory and antihistamine nutrients, to help control allergies.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.