Doctor Hilary on the difference between covid and hay fever
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The NHS explains that hay fever is an allergic reaction caused by pollen – a fine powder from plants. For some, hay fever can cause such severe reactions that it interferes with their everyday life, especially as there is no current cure. Due to this, it is no surprise that recent research from Upfield – the number one producer of plant-based spreads, cheeses, and creams around the world – found that 43 percent of Brits would change the food they eat in an attempt to stop hay fever symptoms.
Tew, who has appeared on the likes of Eat Well for Less, explained that hay fever sufferers should aim to avoid foods with high levels of histamine – a chemical that is released to fight allergens in the body.
Normally released around the sites of an infection, for example around the nose and eyes, meaning that symptoms will affect such areas.
Although all food contains some level of histamine, Tew emphasised that some have higher levels than others. She said: “If you are already having a lot of histamine in your system, because your body’s reacting to an allergen, then by eating higher levels of histamine as well, you are potentially going to increase that inflammatory cascade.
“This is why for some people, switching over to a low histamine diet is going to help hay fever symptoms.”
Going on to explain which specific foods have higher levels of histamine and should therefore be avoided by hay fever sufferers, Tew said: “High levels of histamine are known to be found in anything that’s packaged.
“We are talking about meat and about fish. But it is also found in fermented foods, so that includes things like fermented dairy products as well. It is actually in a whole heap of different foods and that is what can make it complicated.
“When you are trying to cut out all of those foods out of your diet it can feel like quite hard work. We are talking about things like aged dairy cheese, fermented dairy creams like soured cream, packaged meats and smoked fish.
“So for somebody that eats lots of tinned foods like tuna or even some legumes and fruits and vegetables such as spinach and aubergine, it gets even more confusing. Condiments and things like ketchup and vinegar are ones as well where it can be found. It is quite wide ranging.”
Due to this, cutting out histamine foods completely can be a daunting or even impossible task. But Tew goes on to explain that this is not a long-term diet, with the idea being that people are able to test out the theory and figure out for themselves whether cutting out certain high histamine foods benefit their hay fever symptoms.
She added: “We encourage people to reduce the histamine level in their diet and reduce it for two to four weeks.”
In order to do this effectively, Tew recommends individuals try to follow a plant-based diet and swap dairy and meat for vegan alternatives. By eating more fresh vegetables and fruit, individuals are also in the perfect position to test whether changes in histamine consumption helps their allergy.
“I’d encourage people to start reintroducing some of the foods they have cut out after two to four weeks, and just see whether or not it makes a difference,” Tew continued to say. “We don’t want people to go on an overly restrictive diet for too long, but there are plenty of things you can still eat.
“What is important is that it is a less processed version. We are going for fresher options, and yes, going more plant based in the short-term could be a beneficial way of trying that out. But that doesn’t mean that is how you have to eat forever more.”
The research conducted at Upfield went further to explore which foods are most effective at reducing symptoms of hay fever. They include:
- Broccoli tops
- Plant-based spreads and cheeses
As well as food changes, the London Allergy and Immunology Centre adds that replacing coffee with decaf coffee and cutting down on beer, wine, and liquor, can all work to reduce hay fever symptoms.
Alcohol suppresses the immune system and caffeine causes liver congestion, making both, in large quantities bad for people’s health, especially hay fever sufferers.
“I would encourage people to experiment more with beans and pulses,” Tew adds when asked what recipes people should try first.
“Just adding in a handful of lentils when making a soup or if I am making a chicken casserole, adding in a couple of tins of beans, so it still has some meat in it, but I am using more plant-based proteins in there as well.”
In addition to helping hay fever, following a plant-based diet can also help people’s health in other ways. This includes lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of certain cancers and chronic diseases.
Overall, Tew explains that not being so reliant on processed or packaged foods is beneficial for an individual’s health.
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