Thursday 22 August 2019

It's not all about inhalers - food can ease asthma too

Apples provide a natural antihistamine, while fish oil supplements can help relieve symptoms

Rozanne Stevens' superslaw. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Rozanne Stevens gives helpful tips. Photo: Martin Maher

Rozanne Stevens

I DEVELOPED asthma after a severe chest infection. My doctor prescribed two types of inhalers -- a preventive inhaler and another inhaler in case of an attack. And that was about it.

My management of my asthma since then has been haphazard to say the least, and I have been a very bad patient. After a particularly bad asthma attack last year, I decided to pull myself together, become compliant in taking the correct medication and also look at other strategies to manage the condition.

Interestingly, there has been substantial research done in the last decade on the links between diet and asthma. Several studies have emerged ranging from the health benefits of apples to eating oily fish.

Dr Anthony Seaton, professor of environmental medicine at Aberdeen University Medical School in Scotland, says: "Our research suggests that it's a combination of dietary factors, rather than a single nutrient or food, that protects people from asthma. And the bonus is that the same nutrition suggestions also protect you against obesity, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes."

Fruits and vegetables repair lungs

We have all heard the 'five-a-day' mantra, but did you know that it benefits lung health too? It's long been recognised that the antioxidants in fresh fruits and vegetables are good for your health.

Researchers studied a group of people following the Mediterranean diet (an eating plan that emphasises fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and healthy fat) and found that these participants had better asthma control than their counterparts.

Research by Dr Lawrence S Greene, PhD, director of the Biology of Human Populations Programme at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, shows that the antioxidants in fresh fruits and vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the lungs.

This helps prevent asthma attacks and symptoms. In addition, fruits and vegetables are low-calorie foods that are filling, and they help you maintain a healthy weight, which can help gain better control of asthma.

Eat an apple to keep your asthma at bay. You know that apples are good for your health, but did you also know that they can reduce your risk of experiencing an asthma attack?

The benefit comes from the powerful antioxidants that are contained in the fruit's peel (especially in red apples) and provide a natural antihistamine and inflammatory effect that can help allergies and asthma.

A study in the 'American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine' found that participants who ate apples twice a week had as much as a one-third lower risk of developing asthma.

Recent lab tests also suggest that the fibre in fruits and vegetables may be beneficial in soothing asthma. They promote the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, which helps us digest food better and absorb essential nutrients like fatty acids.

In general, people eat enough fruit, though they fall short on vegetables. Between 1977 and 1996, vegetable consumption dropped 26pc to a measly 100g a day. This dramatic decline in vegetable consumption mirrors the sharp incline of asthma sufferers.

Omega-3 essential fats

We need two kinds of polyunsaturated fats, omega-6 and omega-3. Corn, sunflower and safflower oils, used in processed biscuits, chips, cakes and salad dressings, are rich in omega-6s.

Fish, canola oil and walnuts supply the most omega-3s. When in balance, these two fats help your immune system fight off disease. The best ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is 2.5 to one.

Research by Dr Robert Grimble, professor of nutrition at the University of Southampton, shows that the typical diet has about 10 teaspoons of omega-6 for every one teaspoon of omega-3, which is more than four times the optimum level.

The result: too much omega-6 prompts the immune system to overproduce chemicals called cytokines that inflame airways and make lung tissue very sensitive to irritants like dust, dander and pollution.

"Omega-3-rich fish oil dampens cytokine production and calms airways," explains Dr Grimble. So up your intake of Omega-3-rich foods and cool it on Omega-6-rich foods.

An Australian study found that people who ate fresh fish -- particularly the fatty kind that is high in omega-3s -- were 75pc less likely to be asthmatic. In the ISAAC study, people in countries with the highest seafood consumption were least likely to have asthma.

Several additional reports suggest that fish-oil supplements improve asthma symptoms in at least half of sufferers.

If you're not a big fan of fish, increase your consumption of walnuts. Super-rich in omega-3s, they are delicious in salads, muesli and granola. I make walnut butter by blitzing in a food processor with a little walnut oil and a pinch of cinnamon. Delicious on toast or in smoothies.

Ban the trans fats

I am going to sound like a broken record saying this, but the trans fats really do have to go; they are toxic in the human body. They are mostly in processed foods so read the ingredients: you'll see "partially hydrogenated oil" -- it means the product likely contains trans fat.

This fat starts out as a polyunsaturated oil rich in omega-6 and then is chemically altered when hydrogen is forced into it under pressure. Research shows that trans fats aggravate asthma more than any other substance.

The Australian ISAAC study found that 13 to 14-year-olds who ate the most trans fats were most likely to have symptoms of asthma.

Downsize meat portions to ease wheezing

We now eat about 50pc more meat and poultry than they did in the 1930s. Researchers believe that this shift to a meat-centred diet may be affecting asthma rates. "In our study, people who got the most calories from cereal and rice and the most protein from cereals, nuts, starch and vegetables were the ones most protected against wheezing," explains Philippa Ellwood, research manager for ISAAC.

As we eat more meat and processed meats, we are eating fewer wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. Learn to create meals where these plant-based foods are the stars and downsize portions of meat.

Have at least one meat-free day a week and try to include at least two fishy meals, ideally oily fish.

All recipes are taken from 'Delish' and 'Relish' Cookbooks by Rozanne Stevens. Check out for healthy cooking classes and book orders

Twitter: @RozanneStevens

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Soy-glazed Salmon Burgers

Serves 4


Asian aioli

* 2 cloves of garlic, crushed

* 125ml (1/2 cup) mayonnaise

* Juice of 1 lime

* 4 tbsp sour cream

* 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

* Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soy glaze

* 1 tbsp cornflour

* 80ml dark soy sauce

* 3 tbsp honey

* 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

* 1 tbsp sunflower oil

Salmon burgers:

* 2 spring onions, finely sliced

* 1 egg

* 65g (2/3 cup) fresh breadcrumbs

* 1 tbsp aioli

* 1 tsp hot chilli sauce

* Salt and freshly ground black pepper

* 500g salmon fillets, finely chopped

* 4 sesame seed buns

* 1 cucumber, peeled into long ribbons

* 2 medium carrots, peeled into ribbons

* 50g pea shoots or micro salad


* Mix together all the ingredients for the aioli, cover and refrigerate. Keep one tablespoon aside for the salmon burger mix.

* To make the soy glaze, dissolve the cornflour in a little cold water until it's smooth and lump free. Pour all the glaze ingredients into a small pot and bring to the boil. Boil the glaze for approximately three minutes, until it's thick, shiny and syrupy.

* To make the salmon burgers, mix together the spring onions, egg, breadcrumbs, the reserved aioli and hot chilli sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add this to the chopped fresh salmon and mix gently. Form into four patties, cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

* To cook the salmon burgers, heat a griddle pan or pan to a medium heat and lightly oil with sunflower oil to make it non-stick. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn over and baste with the soy glaze. Cook for three more minutes and turn once more, glazing the other side. Cook for a further four-to-five minutes, brushing with the glaze, until just opaque.

* Lightly toast the buns, then place a salmon burger on top and dress with the aioli, cucumber, carrot and pea shoots. Serve immediately.

Ish Factor:

Dark soy sauce is a staple condiment throughout Asia, made from fermented soybeans, roasted grains, water and salt. To give it a dark colour and thicker consistency, molasses is added and it's aged. Dark soy sauce needs to be cooked to bring out its full flavour, so it's ideal for marinades, basting and glazes.

Superfood Slaw with Apple

WHEN I first moved to Ireland I was baffled and slightly horrified by the coleslaw/ham and coleslaw/cheese combo. In South Africa I'd only ever had coleslaw as a salad with a 'braai' (BBQ).

Now I secretly enjoy this mayonnaisey concoction on a crusty roll! A real superfood, cabbage is such an integral part of Irish cuisine that I decided to give coleslaw the Irish makeover.

Use red cabbage, add another Irish superfood -- seaweed -- and lots of super seeds and apples, and you have a super slaw. The dressing in this recipe is a lighter, zingier alternative to plain mayonnaise.


* 1/2 small red cabbage, finely sliced, a mandolin or food processor attachment is the best

* 3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated

* 2 apples, sliced or grated

* 1/2 red onion, finely chopped

* 4tbsp dried cranberries

* 2tbsp sunflower seeds

* 2tbsp pumpkin seeds

* 2tbsp dulse seaweed or 'seaweed salad' mix from a health shop

* 100g alfalfa sprouts or pea shoots


* 1/2 tub creme fraiche

* 3tbsp apple cider vinegar

* 1tbsp sunflower oil

* 2tsp agavé syrup or honey


* Mix the dressing by dissolving the agavé syrup in the vinegar first. Then whisk in the sunflower oil and crème fraiche. If you like your dressing a little tarter, add more vinegar.

* Soak the seaweed in boiling water for 20 minutes if required, depending on the variety you're using.

* Lightly toast the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds in a clean dry pan for extra flavour, and -- allow to cool. This is optional but adds a toasty element.

* Mix together all the prepared vegetables, seaweed, dried fruit and seeds.

* Add the dressing and mix well.

* Scatter over the alfalfa shoots for added crunch and colour.



Tropical Tastebud Tingler

Serves 8

THIS is an unusual foodie experiment that I introduce to my new students. At first, people are sceptical, but then they really get into it. The idea behind it is to challenge and tickle all your tastebuds so that you are experiencing salty, sweet, sour and heat in different combinations.

This helps you to learn how to season food and balance flavours-especially in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

My favourite combinations are salt and chilli on the pineapple, coconut on the mango and plenty of lime over everything! Good foodie fun with friends to tickle your tastebuds before a meal.


* 2 pineapples

* 4 mangos

To serve:

* Dried chilli flakes

* Sea salt flakes

* Fresh limes, halved

* Coconut curls or desiccated coconut


* Top and tail the pineapple. Slice off the peel following the curve of the fruit. Cut out the black 'eyes' by following the diagonal line in which they run, then place the pineapple on its side and cut slices -- they should be a star shape.

* Peel the mangos and slice off each 'cheek', using the stone as your guide. Slice the mango halves into thickish slices and fan out.

* Arrange the fruit on a platter and set out bowls of seasoning for everyone to make up their own combinations.

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