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Diets rich in veggies, nuts and fruits may fend off asthma
Kids breathe easier with Mediterranean diet

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Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 10/26/2008

FRUITS, vegetables and nuts should be part of your diet for lots of reasons, but now we're learning that for kids, especially, there's yet another reason to eat them: They can protect children from asthma and allergies.

A number of studies in Mexico, Spain, Greece and Chile show that a Mediterranean-style diet--which is heavy on fresh produce and healthy fats--helps protect children around the world from breathing problems.

American and European studies have already proven this eating pattern helps protect adults from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and even Alzheimer's disease.

The latest study, released this month, surveyed 1,476 parents of 6- to 7-year-old Mexican children. Those who ate Mediterranean style had 40 percent lower rates of asthma.

That backs up a Spanish study last year that followed children from conception to age 6.

Kids who ate "fruity vegetables"--those vegetables containing seeds, such as tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, green beans and zucchini--had much lower rates of asthma and allergies. Children who ate fruit and fish often also had less asthma, a chronic breathing problem that afflicts an increasing number of children.

A Greek study of older children, aged 7 to 18, found that the Mediterranean diet reduced seasonal allergies, or hay fever, by 66 percent. This study also zoomed in on some specific foods. Kids who ate nuts three times a week were 46 percent less likely to wheeze. (Be careful, though, as nuts can be a choking hazard for small children.)

Eating daily any oranges, apples, grapes, tomatoes or kiwis also cut respiratory problems by 63 to 86 percent.

It's never to late to begin this eating pattern. Asthmatic adults who followed a Mediterranean eating pattern were more likely to be able to control their asthma, according to Portuguese research.

PROTEINS, HEALTHY FATS

The Mediterranean diet is the traditional eating pattern of countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, Spain, southern France and Morocco. People in these areas historically have had lower rates of heart disease and obesity.

The eating pattern features lots of fruits and vegetables. People also eat many starchy foods such as cereal, bread and potatoes. But instead of slathering bread with butter or frying potatoes in hydrogenated oils, they use olive oil as a spread and condiment.


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HOW MEDITERRANEAN IS YOUR PLATE?

Give yourself a point for each of the following food habits you have:

Eat fruits once a day.

Eat vegetables once a day.

Eat beans, peas or lentils once a week.

Eat cereals, bread, pasta, rice or potatoes daily.

Eat peanut butter, almonds or other nuts at least twice weekly.

Regularly use olive oil for cooking, salad dressing or dipping bread.

Eat milk, yogurt or cheese daily.

Eat chicken or poultry weekly.

Eat beef or pork three or less times a month.

Eat a second serving of fruit a day.

Eat vegetables more than once daily.

Eat beans, peas or lentils two or more times weekly.

Subtract a point for each of these dietary habits:

Eat beef or pork daily.

Eat fried foods one or more times weekly.

Eat packaged snacks (potato or chips, cheese puffs, etc.) at least weekly.

Eat fast food at least once a week.

Eat margarine, butter or creamy dressings daily.

Eat sweets daily.

Drink daily regular sodas, sweet tea or coffee, energy drinks or other sugary drinks.

Now give yourself another point for each of the following food choices you make:

Eat four or less eggs weekly (including those used in baking).

Eat fish or seafood once a week.

Eat fish or seafood two or more times a week.

Finally, give yourself two points if you regularly walk or do other physical activity.

SCORES:

0-4: You haven't yet been exposed to all the good-tasting and healthy options.

5-8: You're beginning to try healthy items.

9-12: You're making efforts to eat well--keep trying new things.

13-16: You've made healthy eating an effortless habit.

Jennifer Motl is a registered dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now lives in Wisconsin.