5 Foods to Help Relieve Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

|Updated May 10, 2022
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It may only be the beginning of Spring, but our allergies jumped an early flight. If you're sniffling, sneezing, or blinking itchy eyes, you're one of the unlucky 8 percent of Americans with pollen allergies – when flowers start to blossom, so does your tissue use. Besides turning to medication, you can also find foods that are natural remedies for pollen allergies. Here are five foods that can help alleviate those seasonal allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of seasonal allergies

Pollen allergies are mostly triggered during Spring when big plants like trees release pollen into the air to fertilize other plants. When pollen is around someone that is allergic, it activates their body’s immune system to release antibodies that attack the allergen, the National Institute of Health (NIH) says. Histamines are then released into the blood, which causes irritating symptoms, which can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffed nose
  • Loss of smell
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Postnasal drip

Luckily, some dietary changes can help alleviate these seasonal allergy symptoms. “Mainly, plant-based, anti-inflammatory foods will help one feel relief from their allergy symptoms when consumed as part of a healthy diet. During peak allergy seasons, a combination of allergies, stress, and lack of sleep can bring on the common cold, so it's best to try to manage your allergies early on,” says Ashley Shaw, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Preg Appetit.

Below, find five whole foods packed with robust nutrients and beneficial bacteria including vitamin C, magnesium, and probiotics that will give you relief and comfort this allergy season.

What to eat when you have allergies

1. Ginger

This ancient spice has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine systems, such as Ayurveda. Therefore, it’s probably no surprise that ginger has natural anti-inflammatory effects to help you combat those seasonal allergy symptoms. A 2020 study published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found that 500 mg ginger extract improved nasal symptoms and quality of life for individuals with hay fever, compared to loratadine –– a common antihistamine drug used to treat allergies. “This is because ginger is a natural antihistamine, meaning it blocks histamine in the body that triggers an allergic reaction,” says Shaw.

2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, also known as a powerhouse because of its healing properties. A 2016 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology examined the effects of curcumin on nasal symptoms and airflow in patients with perennial allergic rhinitis. Researchers found that curcumin alleviated nasal symptoms, such as sneezing and nasal congestion. While the exact amount of turmeric to take is unknown, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) advises taking 1.4 milligrams of curcumin per pound (3 milligrams per kilogram) of body weight per day.

“Spring allergies may cause nasal irritation like sneezing, itchy and runny nose in which curcumin found in turmeric may help ease due to its decongestant and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Kari Pitts RDN, a registered dietitian at Preg Appetit.

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3. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits are full of good-for-you nutrients. “They are packed with vitamin C, an immune-supporting vitamin, and antihistamine. Citrus fruits are also high in water content, making them very hydrating. Proper hydration is essential in keeping inflammation in the body at bay,” says Shaw.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of International Medical Research analyzed the role of vitamin C in alleviating allergy symptoms. Researchers found that a high dose of vitamin C (7.5 grams) reduced allergy-related symptoms and improved the quality of day-to-day life. Increasing your intake of vitamin C with foods like cantaloupe, which contains 337 percent of our daily value, may be helpful in easing your seasonal allergy symptoms.  However, talk to your doctor before taking a high dose of vitamin C through an over-the-counter supplement

4. Onions

This pungent vegetable may be more powerful than you think. A 2019 study published in Scientific Reports evaluated the effect of onion extract on the nasal cavity for treating allergic rhinitis. Researchers tested mice and found that the mice given the onion extracted experienced fewer allergies and inflammation, after conducting a sneezing and cytokine test. While further research needs to be developed on humans to identify the amount of onions ideal for alleviating seasonal allergy symptoms, studies do support the mighty properties of this vegetable. “Additionally, eating onions may be beneficial for seasonal allergies because they contain the flavonoid quercetin, suggested to work as a natural antihistamine,” says Pitts.

5. Tomatoes

Believe it or not, these popular fruits can be very helpful to combat seasonal allergy symptoms. “Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation caused by an allergic reaction. You absorb lycopene better from cooked tomatoes rather than raw, so opt for a nice hot bowl of tomato soup,” says Shaw.

Even though lycopene is in other red and pink foods like watermelon and pink grapefruit, 85 percent of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products, according to a study published in Applied Biological Chemistry. A 2017 report published in Nutrients suggested that eating just 2-4 servings of tomatoes a day alleviated symptoms associated with asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Foods to avoid that may make allergy symptoms worse

1. Red or Processed Meat

Eating red and processed meat has been shown to increase inflammation in the body due to its high levels of saturated fat, which can trigger mucus production. Regularly eating red meat can also increase your chances of lifestyle diseases including cancer and heart disease. Trade red or processed meat for plant-based protein sources when allergy season comes around.

2. Dairy

Full-fat dairy products including milks, yogurts, and cheeses are loaded with saturated fats. In a 2015 study from The Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that adult participants who consumed dairy products such as milk experienced an increase in low-grade inflammation. Luckily, there are many dairy-free, plant-based milks, yogurts, and cheese alternatives on the market today to indulge in when you feel allergies worsening.

3. Refined Sugar

Several recent studies have linked high amounts of dietary sugar with elevated levels of inflammation. This may be because, as Medical News Today points out, "Sugar stimulates the production of free fatty acids in the liver. When the body digests these free fatty acids, the resulting compounds can trigger inflammatory processes." Trade foods high in refined sugars like sugary drinks, processed carbs, and baked goods for natural sugars like fruit and sweeteners such as monk fruit.

4. Alcohol

Regular alcohol consumption has been linked to systemic inflammation, as well as a wealth of other health concerns. Which is to say, when you're feeling a bit sneezy, put the wine away.

"Alcohol-induced gut inflammation is believed to promote several disease states both within the GI tract, in the form of gastrointestinal cancers and inflammatory bowel disease, and outside the GI tract, in the form of, for example, liver disease and neuroinflammation," asserts a study in the journal Alcohol Research.

Bottom Line: Eating more plant-based foods high in vitamin C, magnesium, and vitamin E can help relieve allergies.

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