Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor
Coping with restaurant asthma
When you go out to eat at a restaurant, you expect it to be a pleasurable and memorable experience. Getting an asthma attack is the last thing you would expect, but it happens.
In a flash, just as you have taken another bite of your crisp garden salad, you may not be able to breathe. What's the culprit? It is a common preservative known as metabisulfite, which is used to keep food looking garden-fresh. It is the substance that prevents the lettuce from turning brown at the edges. The reaction to the preservative is so common that doctors have named it 'restaurant asthma'.
Some Chinese restaurants have received a bad rap as patrons complain about a burning sensation, numbness of the face and constricted sinuses, associated with monosodium glutamate (MSG) in foods consumed. MSG, with a popular brand known as Accent, is a flavour enhancer used lavishly by some restaurants in the preparation of Chinese food.
So how do you enjoy dining out without getting an asthma attack? You have to know which restaurant foods are likely to have high concentrations of metabisulfite. The common ones are:
The preservative is not only found in restaurant items, but also in wines and beers, and it is not easily detected. The United States Food and Drug Administration also allows its use usually without labelling.
Foods have hidden triggers which can cause regular asthma attacks. Breathing is affected by eating, and the area of food allergies is quite complex, far more than getting hives by eating strawberries or other fruits. Persons may suffer asthma attacks arising from allergies to some foods. When food allergies are combined with environmental allergens, the asthma attack is worse.
You can test to see which foods are creating the allergy attacks by eliminating certain foods from the diet with help from a respiratory specialist. The first foods to investigate are milk, corn, wheat, eggs, chocolate, citrus, beef and chicken.
You can test many foods and beverages yourself, until the symptoms have completely disappeared.
1. Start a log of your diet and health each day. Record every item you eat or drink, and the time of day. List any kind of asthma reactions or attack. While this is a timely exercise, it can reveal certain patterns when you get an attack. In some instances, it may not be until five hours after you have eaten a certain product.
2. For three weeks, eliminate one product or food completely from your diet. Read labels carefully and pass on by-products of certain products. For example, cornstarch and corn syrup count as corn.
3. Resume eating the item in generous portions at every meal for three consecutive days. If your asthma attack worsens after eating it, then more than likely it contains the allergen. So remove it from your diet immediately.
If you find the log system taxing and annoying, then you can resort to nutrition to help your breathing problems. It has been found that vitamins A, B6 (pyridoxine), C, D and the mineral magnesium, can be helpful in reducing asthma attacks.
According to the Journal of the International Academy of Preventative Medicine, calcium plus vitamins A and D contribute to improved breathing and reduce the severity of attacks. Calcium is known to improve lung function and vitamin D helps in the utility of calcium. Vitamin A keeps the mucous membrane from overproducing.
A report in the Lancet indicates that breastfeeding can counter the hereditary tendency of breastfeeding. Children who were breastfed in the first six months showed a lower rate of allergy-related problems compared to those fed on formula.
While you diversify your eating habits, restaurants may be a favourite alternative. But if you are asthmatic, watch what you eat to avoid asthma attacks.