18 Foods That Fight Asthma

Exercise probably makes you feel good. Very good. And yet, I bet it’s still tough for you to find the time and motivation to go to the gym three days a week.

Now imagine if exercise made you feel awful. Nauseated. Like you can’t ever catch your breath. Like you could pass out at any moment. How often would you go to the gym then? Never? I wouldn’t blame you.

That’s exactly the situation 1 in 15 Americans faces every day. I’m referring to the 20 million people suffering from asthma. You probably don’t think about asthma much. Unless you have it, that is. In that case, you probably think about it 24/7. Consider:

* Asthma accounts for 25 percent of all emergency room visits in this country.
* Each day in America, 40,000 adults miss work because of asthma.
* Kids with asthma miss an average of eight school days per year.
* The incidence of asthma has been growing every year for the past three decades.

And of those 20 million asthma sufferers, up to 90 percent will have an attack during or right after exercising. In fact, for teenagers and young adults, exercise is the most common cause of asthma symptoms.

If you’re a victim, you’ll do almost anything to relieve your symptoms. But instead of skipping your workout, do this: Go grocery shopping. Why? An Indiana University review finds that certain foods can lessen the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. “Asthma is a disease of chronic inflammation in the airways, and most foods Americans eat contribute to this inflammation,” explains study co-author Sally Head, Ph.D. (c), a medical student at Indiana University. Below is what to put in your cart instead.

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(Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Papaya, Lettuce, Carrots, Spinach)

Asthma patients are known to generate more free radicals—chemicals that may produce mucous and cause the lungs and airway to narrow. Even worse, asthmatics tend to be deficient in antioxidants, which fight off the damaging effects of these molecules.

An Israeli study found that people who took a mega dose (64 mg/day) of beta-carotene for a week only had a 5 percent decrease in forced expiratory volume, a measurement of lung function, after exercising compared to a 25 percent drop for those taking a placebo. Five servings of fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe) daily can provide up to 8 mg of beta-carotene. The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming between 3 mg to 6 mg per day. You can increase your intake with a daily multivitamin or with vegetable juice. (Talk to your doctor first if you smoke; beta-carotene supplementation has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.)

Another study found that when participants took 30 mg of lycopene for a week, their asthma attacks weren’t as severe when compared to no treatment. (Doctors recommend anywhere from 2 to 30 mg daily.) Ask your doctor about introducing a supplement into your diet, and fill up on lycopene-loaded fruits like watermelon (9 to 13 milligrams of lycopene in 1.5 cups) and tomatoes (3 mg in a medium tomato).

STRANGE BUT TRUE: If beating asthma with sweet potatoes sounds too good to be true, wait till you read these 14 crazy-sounding (but completely true) health tips!

(Oranges, Strawberries, Kiwi, Broccoli, Bell Peppers)

Yale University research found that subjects who took 500 mg of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) for two days had significantly reduced wheezing and shortness of breath after working out. (For reference, a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice has about 100 mg.) Asorbic acid’s seemingly protective effect may be caused by its ability to accelerate the metabolism of histamines, a chemical that can cause the lungs and airway to swell. Since 1 in 10 men is deficient in vitamin C, according to the Centers for Disease Control, bolster your diet with bell peppers—which have 3 times more vitamin C than oranges—and citrus fruit.

(Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel)

University of Indiana researchers gave subjects an omega-3 fatty acid supplement daily for three weeks. (The supplement contained 3.2 grams of EPA and 2.2 grams of DHA, both types of omega-3s.) Fifteen minutes after exercising, subjects on this fish-oil-supplemented diet experienced better lung function than those taking a placebo. Researchers attribute this easier breathing to omega-3's ability to help decrease inflammation in the body. Aim for a 3-to-1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. (Americans currently eat a 10-to-1 ratio.) Too many omega-6s can actually trigger inflammation. Good omega-3 sources include salmon, tuna, and mackerel. If you're not getting enough in your diet, try a fish-oil supplement like Coromega.

(Coffee, tea, dark chocolate)

Drinking high doses of caffeine before exercising—about 3 cups of strong coffee for a 150-pound man—may make it easier to breathe after your workout, according to a Tel-Aviv University study. Caffeine, a muscle relaxant, dilates your airway and combats the natural tendency for an asthmatic’s lungs to spasm and constrict after exercising.

And here’s one more food asthmatics need to know about: salt. But in this case, cut it from your diet. A University of Colorado study found that people who maintained a low-salt diet (between 1,300 to 1,500 mg/day) had improved breathing post-exercise than those who followed a high-sodium diet. Scientists believe sodium infiltrates smooth muscle cells like those in your lungs, and upsets the calcium levels. This imbalance triggers the cells to contract, causing labored breathing.

Though more research is needed to determine how big of a role salt plays in lung function, it doesn’t hurt to cut back your sodium intake. Seventy-seven percent of Americans’ salt intake comes from restaurant and processed meals—foods you should avoid anyway.

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