Researchers studying children in Greece found that those who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and olive oil experience less respiratory allergies and asthma than other children. Dr. Paul Cullinan of Britain's Royal Brompton Hospital and National Heart and Lung Institute and colleagues in Greece and Spain studied 690 children aged 7 to 18 using a 58-food frequency questionnaire.
Comparing children on the Greek island of Crete who ate the most fresh fruits and nuts to children who ate the most margarine, researchers discovered "a high consumption of nuts was found to be inversely associated with wheezing, whereas margarine increased the risk of both wheezing and allergic rhinitis (sneezing and runny nose)."
"Eighty percent of children ate fresh fruit (and 68 percent vegetables) at least twice a day," they wrote in their report, published in the journal Thorax. Researchers reported that "data suggest a beneficial effect of commonly consumed fruits, vegetables, and nuts and of a high adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet during childhood on symptoms of asthma and rhinitis. Diet may explain the relative lack of allergic symptoms in this population."
The scientists found intake of grapes, oranges, apples, and fresh tomatoes, which are local products widely available in Crete, had no association with atopy -- a hereditary immunoglobulin-related problem that can predispose a child to certain atopic allergic illnesses -- but was protective for wheezing and rhinitis.
"This benefit is thought to be linked to the vitamins and antioxidants which [fruits, nuts and vegetables] contain," said Leanne Male, assistant director of research at Asthma UK, "Asthma UK is currently funding a number of research projects to further explore this association."
Researchers stated grapes had never before been shown to protect against allergies. Compounds found in grape skins, especially antioxidant substances, may be responsible, they said.
"Most consumers do not know it, but allergies are often brought on by a highly inflammatory diet comprised of processed foods," said Mike Adams, author of The 7 Laws of Nutrition, "Switching to unprocessed foods, including fresh vegetables, olive oil, and vinegar results in a sharp reduction in inflammation, thereby reducing allergies in both children and adults."