Hay fever, or to give it its medical name, Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis is an allergy to airborne pollen which comes from trees, grass, plants and mould spurs. When pollen comes into contact with the nose, eyes and throat the immune system releases histamine. This is an inflammatory trigger to the body and initiates increased mucus production, contracts smooth muscle and encourages the dilation of blood vessels contributing to typical hay fever symptoms; namely itchy, watery and red eyes, sneezing, a blocked nose and general cold like symptoms.
Statistics show that up to a third of us will suffer from symptoms caused by hay fever this summer and we also know that it is closely associated with asthma so if your child is asthmatic, it is very likely that they will suffer from both together. In fact, Australia, New Zealand and the UK top the worldwide table for asthma in children.
Hay fever can be incredibly debilitating, especially in young children, and can understandably leave them feeling tired, run down and miserable. As parents, we will naturally want to do anything to help alleviate their symptoms. The good news is that simple changes and the introduction of new foods to your child’s diet can make a huge difference in building up their immune system, often treating symptoms effectively and naturally.
How food can help
The itchiness in hay fever is caused by the effect of histamine on nerve endings. A natural approach to reducing allergic reactions focuses on supporting the immune system by reducing both inflammation and histamine production.
There are a number of different foods which contain powerful antihistamine qualities, as well as immune boosting nutrients. Here I have listed the top foods which will help boost your child’s immune system and help alleviate the symptoms caused by hay fever, hopefully paving the way for a more enjoyable summer for all the family.
Hay fever fighter no.1 – Ginger
Ginger can slow the body’s histamine response and has great anti-inflammatory properties. Encouraging your child to consume around 1 – 2cm of fresh ginger per day can make a real difference.
Since it has such a strong taste the best way to get kids to eat this is to add it to an ice lolly. Here is my favourite recipe which doubles up as a healthy and refreshing treat:
- In a blender add ¼ fresh pineapple, one peeled and stoned mango, one kiwi (washed with skin on) and 2cm of peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
- Whizz until smooth, add water if needed
- Add to lolly moulds and freeze
- Let your kids enjoy one of these a day!
Alternatively, if they like the taste of ginger and you have a juicer, simply juice the pineapple with two apples and 2cm of ginger. Blend with ice and drink through a straw to protect their teeth.
Hay fever fighter no. 2 – Garlic and onion
Both of these foods contain the active ingredient Quercetin, which is an incredibly powerful anti-inflammatory capable of reducing histamine. They can also increase the production of white blood cells which helps support the immune system.
The best way to get children to eat these foods is through a tasty homemade pasta sauce. Fry the onion and garlic in a little olive oil, add any other vegetables plus a tin of chopped tomatoes and good pinch of herbs. Once cooked through, whizz in a blender ready to use as a sauce with pasta, or spread onto toast or a pizza base.
Hay fever fighter no. 3 – Salmon
Oily fish such as salmon contains essential fatty acids called Omega 3. These fats contain prostaglandins which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Most children will eat a fish finger or fish cake so you just need to make sure the fish used in either of these is salmon and you have this one covered! It is really easy to make your own fish fingers. Simply cut your salmon fillet in to strips, dip in flour, then egg followed by wholemeal bread crumbs or polenta and bake in the oven.
Hay fever fighter no. 4 – Pineapple
Pineapple contains the active ingredient Bromelain, another food with powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
Enjoy it with your children as fresh as it comes!
Hay fever fighter no. 5 – Honey
You have to get your hands on local honey for this work. The theory being that consuming local honey exposes the immune system to the very pollen that can be causing the symptoms. This will help dampen the immune response as the body will be used to having it in the system. (remember not to give honey if your child is under one)
Hay fever fighter no. 6 – Turmeric
This spice contains the active ingredient Curcumin which has the ability to reduce the release of histamine. It is also a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.
You can simply add a teaspoon to scrambled eggs, when cooking rice or to any dish with an Asian or Middle Eastern flavour.
Hay fever fighter no. 7 – Probiotics
Probiotics are healthy, friendly bacteria that colonise the gut to give the body a strong immune system. Studies have shown that children with allergies such as eczema, asthma and hay fever have very low levels of these important bacteria.
The easiest way to get probiotics in to your child’s diet is to simply give them one serving of LIVE natural yoghurt a day. Choose brands with no added sugar and add your own fruit to make it more interesting.
Hay fever fighter no. 8 – Vitamin C
Vitamin C is vital to help control allergic symptoms. It is a natural anti-histamine and is an important component of the immune system. All fruits and vegetables are good sources of Vitamin C so make sure you give your child some fruit at breakfast, a fruit snack, salad and vegetables with both lunch and dinner and you will have ensured that their bodies get a good intake of this important nutrient.
Another interesting fact of Vitamin C is that it is water soluble, which means it can be easily lost during cooking and canning. To preserve as much of the vitamin as possible, make use of a steamer and use fresh, local produce wherever possible.
Foods to avoid
Just as there are foods which you can increase in your child’s diet to help them suffer less from the symptoms of hay fever, eliminating or reducing the intake of other foods can also help. I would highly recommend limiting the following foods so that your child gains the maximum benefit from the good foods you introduce:
- Sugar: Keep refined sugar intake as low as possible as this unhealthy food really taxes the immune system. Check labels for hidden sugars
- Dairy: With the exception of the natural yoghurt above, keep dairy foods low in the diet as these increase mucous production
- Red meat: A food that causes an inflammatory response in the body
- Saturated fats: These also cause an inflammatory response in the body.