Feeding a child with asthma

The right diet can minimise your child’s asthma symptoms and keep her healthy, so what should – and shouldn’t – she be eating?

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Trigger foods for children with asthma

For around five per cent of children with asthma, certain foods can make their symptoms worse, so it’s helpful to be aware of potential trigger foods. Peanuts, nuts, seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, fish and shellfish are among the foods that can trigger asthma, containing certain proteins which may cause an asthma attack.

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Some additives can also cause allergic reactions that bring on asthma symptoms, such as tartrazine (E102), a yellow colouring found in foods including some yoghurts and ice creams, and benzoic acid (E210), a preservative used in some fruit products and soft drinks.

When to wean

If you’re concerned that your baby may have asthma, or if there’s a family history of asthma or allergies, waiting until six months to wean is particularly important. Researchers have found that foods such as milk, eggs, wheat or fish can sometimes trigger allergies if babies are exposed to them before they are six months old.

Beyond six months, introducing solids is unlikely to affect your baby’s chances of developing asthma. But to play it safe, experts recommend introducing new foods gradually, aiming for just three new foods a week at first, and begin with the least allergenic foods, such as pureed fruit and vegetables. 

When you introduce potential asthma trigger foods like cow’s milk, eggs, wheat and fish, try them one at a time, so you can spot any reaction. By the age of nine months, your baby should be trying most foods, and enjoying a varied diet.

Spotting trigger foods

If you’re concerned that a food is bringing on asthma symptoms, your GP should be your first port of call. He can prescribe the appropriate medicines and give you advice on working out which foods are triggering your child’s asthma. This may include:

Keeping a food diary
Every day, write down the times of your child’s meals and snacks, and what she has to eat and drink on each occasion. Alongside, note down your child’s symptoms and when they occur and other potential contributing factors like her physical activity and mood – asthma can be brought on by laughter or crying.

Food elimination
An elimination diet means cutting out all suspected trigger foods for two weeks, then re-introducing one food every three days, noting any symptoms as each food is reintroduced. Only try this under medical guidance to avoid potential problems caused by eliminating key food groups.

Allergy testing
If your child develops symptoms quickly after eating a certain food, your doctor may refer her for an allergy test. Be wary of arranging testing privately, as ‘over the counter’ allergy tests may not be accurate.

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Foods that fight asthma

While some foods are best avoided for young asthma sufferers, others help to keep your child healthy. Researchers have found that fruit and vegetables can help to improve lung function and ward off colds, which can trigger asthma, whilst foods rich in vitamins C (such as citrus fruits, broccoli and strawberries) and E (like green leafy vegetables and avocado) can help to reduce lung inflammation. Get your child to drink plenty of water, too, as this keeps her airways moist so they don’t constrict. 

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