Three Foods to Add to Your Diet to Reduce Seasonal Allergies
Restrictions are finally starting to get lifted, the weather is getting warmer, trees are slowly getting their leaves, and people are finally coming out of their winter/quarantine hibernation to enjoy nature again! But as nice as it is to finally be able to spend time outside, for about 25% of Canadians, going outside right now is no fun.
That’s right, as many as 1 in 4 of us suffer from seasonal allergies! After being cooped up indoors for so long, this year must be especially difficult to deal with the symptoms of hay fever (another common name of allergic rhinitis caused by seasonal allergens).
So if you’re one of the nearly 10 million Canadians that typically avoids going outside during the worst of the pollen season in May and June (or relies heavily on over-the-counter allergy meds that come with their own side effects), this post is for you.
As a holistic nutritionist, finding natural solutions to common health concerns is my jam. As someone who dealt with terrible seasonal allergies for the first 25 or so years of my life, I know how much it sucks. The good news is that by strengthening your gut and immune health, you can give your body a fighting chance to actually significantly lower or full-on eliminate seasonal allergy symptoms!
So here are my top three research-backed seasonal-allergy-fighting foods to add to your diet!
Spirulina is an earthy-tasting blue-green algae that has been very popular amongst health-foodies for many years. It’s an antioxidant-rich complete protein that is a great source of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Blue spirulina is what gives trendy superfood elixirs and lattes their bright robins-egg-blue colour.
But spirulina isn’t just good for making Instagram-worthy hot drinks and adding much needed protein to plant-based diets. It’s also amazing for strengthening the immune system and specifically, reducing symptoms of allergic rhinitis like sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itchy eyes, nose, and throat.
In one 2008 double-blind study, researchers found that “Spirulina consumption significantly improved the symptoms and physical findings compared with placebo (P < 0.001***) including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching. Spirulina is clinically effective on allergic rhinitis when compared with placebo.”
I recommend adding spirulina to your diet by mixing it with smoothies, green juices, or in elixirs if you’re feeling fancy! It is algae, so the taste can definitely take some getting used to, but I’m confident that you’ll love the effect it has on your seasonal allergies. If it means that you can actually enjoy your time spent outdoors, a shot of spirulina every morning is totally worth it!
Bee pollen is another super trendy health food and for good reason! It’s been shown to be anti-inflammatory and contains 250(!) nutrients including amino acids, vitamins, and bioflavonoids.
Bee pollen is a popular smoothie bowl or avocado toast topping. I love it for it’s sweet and earthy flavour. My favourite way to use bee pollen is as a topping on eggs, but my husband loves it blended in his morning smoothie. It’s versatile and tasty, which makes it that much more impressive knowing it can be extremely helpful for reducing allergy symptoms.
Though very few studies have tested the effect of bee pollen on allergy symptoms, several animal studies have shown that it could be effective. With that said, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that it works like a charm to reduce runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes, nose, and throat due to outdoor allergen exposure!
As long as you don’t have an allergy to bee stings, bee pollen can be used safely everyday. I repeat, do not eat bee pollen if you are allergic to bee stings. Starting with a small portion (no more than 1 teaspoon) to ensure no adverse reaction, you can work your way up to 1 tablespoon per day. Start incorporating it into your diet in the early spring and you’ll notice a marked difference in your allergy symptoms!
Fermented foods contain live cultures of beneficial gut bacteria, also known as probiotics, that help maintain a healthy microbiome. Since gut health and immune system health are so connected, it makes sense that probiotic-rich foods like kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kefir, and probiotic supplements would have a positive effect on immune system imbalances, like seasonal allergies.
Several studies have shown that probiotics can be used as an alternative therapy to reduce hay fever symptoms, but improving gut health goes way beyond just reducing symptoms. By increasing the amount of fermented foods in your diet and in turn improving overall microbiome health, you may even eliminate symptoms all together.
Like bee pollen, I recommend starting with small servings of fermented foods and increasing with time as your tolerance builds. If your body isn’t used to eating probiotic-rich foods, you may have experienced gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. I now incorporate fermented foods into every meal. I love using plain kefir as a smoothie base, eating eggs with kimchi and avocado for lunch, and adding a side of sauerkraut (or a kombucha mocktail) with dinner!
Bonus: Other Immune-Supporting Foods
It’s important to remember that supplementing your diet with spirulina, bee pollen, and fermented foods will help protect you against hay fever symptoms, but laying a healthy foundation to support overall gut and immune function is crucial to give your body a fighting chance to actually eliminate hay fever all together!
A diet rich in a variety of colourful fruits and veggies is key. Specifically, foods like onions, garlic, dark leafy greens, and citrus fruits are amazing immune system builders, mainly due to their vitamin c, zinc, and sulfur content: three nutrients that are important to have in abundance in your diet if you struggle with immune system imbalance.
Eating a variety of fresh, whole foods is a great way to support gut health as well. Aside from fermented foods, my favourite foods to keep the microbiome healthy are omega-3 rich oily fish like salmon and sardines, bone broth, collagen peptides, and prebiotic-rich foods like asparagus, green bananas, chicory root, and leeks.
By shifting your diet from a standard American diet high in processed foods and low in fibre-rich fresh veggies, fruits, and good-quality proteins and fats, your body’s immune system and gut health will improve, eventually reducing or eliminating seasonal allergy symptoms all together! Yes, it takes time, but unlike an over-the-counter hay fever medication which simply masks the symptoms, you can actually eliminate symptoms with dietary and supplemental intervention.
So, what’s your experience with seasonal allergies? Do you suffer from seasonal allergies currently? I’d love to hear about your experience and if any natural remedies have helped lower or eliminate your symptoms, so feel free to add a comment below!