This year’s fire season has been catastrophic in California and beyond.
The resulting hazy and smoky air poses serious health concerns for people even well outside of the fire zones. As fire season gets longer and more severe year after year, we face increasing negative health consequences of breathing in this bad air. It’s more important than ever to choose foods to help promote healthy lung function right now.
Wildfire smoke contains pollutants that are linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. While even younger and healthier folks are at risk of getting sick from wildfire air pollution, those with pre-existing health concerns like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are particularly vulnerable.
Research shows that we can protect our lungs and even reduce lung damage and symptoms by eating nutritious foods. Foods that help decrease inflammation and promote healthy blood vessels are especially beneficial for healthy lungs. Here are nutrition strategies to help you breathe easier:
Opt for Nutrient-Dense Foods with Omega-3 Fats
Omega-3 fatty acids from foods like nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish are anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce inflammation in the lungs. Try adding in a handful of walnuts for a snack or sprinkle a tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flaxseeds on your morning oatmeal. Aim to include fatty fish like salmon or tuna at least twice per week. Use vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil in recipes.
Choose Vitamin C-Rich Foods
Vitamin C has antioxidant power and is protective against some lung problems like obstructive airway disease and asthma. Vitamin C-rich foods include red bell peppers, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, strawberries and kiwi. In fact, most of these foods with vitamin C are overall nutrition powerhouses that pack a serious punch with a variety of antioxidants and other important nutrients for your lungs.
The Quest for Foods with Quercetin
Quercetin is a phytonutrient found in foods like apples, capers, fresh cilantro, lettuces and onions. Quercetin helps keep our cells healthy by fighting inflammation and neutralizing damaging free radicals. Consumption of quercetin-rich foods may help reduce the risk of asthma, bronchial hyper-reactivity and COPD. Quercetin may even help with reducing allergy symptoms.
Minimize Habits that Take a Toll
Steer away from habits that worsen your lung function. If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit. Consider talking to your physician to get the support you need to stop smoking. In addition, some foods and beverages may not be good for lung health. Processed meat with nitrates including some deli meats, hot dogs and sausage can increase inflammation and add stress to breathing. Too much salt, sugar-sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages can worsen lung problems like bronchitis, asthma and pneumonia.
Nutrition can play a part in supporting healthy lung function. Focus on eating a variety of foods that are full of antioxidants to help keep your lungs in tip-top shape. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you have respiratory concerns, which may be heightened with worsening air quality during fire season.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].