Living With Allergies

The Truth About Your Diet and Your Allergies

Photo of a person reaching into a refrigerator.
Photo by Patrick Chin via Death to Stock

If you deal with allergies, you’ve probably heard that food has an impact on your allergy and sinus symptoms.

Some people are adamant that there are certain foods that destroy mucus and kick your stuffy nose to the curb, while there are other foods that you should avoid because they’ll only make your symptoms worse.

It’s confusing. So, how can you know what’s real and what isn’t? Well, plot twist, there’s really not enough research either way to come up with a tried and true list of “good” and “bad” foods for allergies.

Even so, we combed through some of the most popular recommendations to tell you why people claim they work—and whether they’re worth trying yourself. Plus, we got official recommendations from Picnic’s medical director and allergist, Dr. Amina Abdeldaim.

Eating spicy foods

Spicy foods often top the list of best foods to clear congestion. And, if you’ve ever indulged in some hot wings or a bowl of curry to relieve your congested nose, you probably know that this one can be effective for kick-starting a runny nose (and a burning tongue).

Why? The gist is that your body detects that spice and attempts to wash it away—in the form of watery eyes and a runny nose that can temporarily minimize your stuffiness.

Dr. Amina says:

While this sounds nice, this isn’t recommended. In fact, some people can actually develop a stuffy nose from eating spicy foods (this is called a vasomotor reflex, meaning the blood vessels in your nose can swell and leak).

Drinking hot tea

When you’re stuck with sinus pain or other not-so-fun allergy symptoms, curling up with a hot beverage is often recommended as a soothing remedy. Not only is that warm mug comforting, but people say that the steam coming off that cup of tea can add some humidity that helps your congested sinuses.

Dr. Amina says:

While it’s important to stay hydrated for just about every single health reason, research shows that the benefits of hot tea probably come down to the placebo effect when it comes to your allergies.

Loading up on citrus fruits

Many people reach for vitamin C when they feel a cold or sinus congestion coming on, and we know that citrus fruits (like oranges and grapefruits, to name just a couple) are packed with it. So it makes sense people think that loading up on the citrus can reduce symptoms.

Dr. Amina says

This one isn’t totally off base and might be worth trying. One study found that an increased vitamin C intake led to fewer symptoms of allergic rhinitis (that’s a fancy word for allergies) in children who participated. However this study relied on the recollection of citrus intake, which can sometimes be unreliable. So while citrus fruits are both nutritious and delicious, do not count on them to treat your allergies.

Adding apple cider vinegar to drinks

In many ways, apple cider vinegar has become the “fix all” for our health problems—from weight loss to acid reflux to, yes, even allergies. Some people swear by swallowing a tablespoon to help with nasal congestion and other annoying symptoms.

Dr. Amina says:

There’s no compelling evidence that it actually helps. It’s not harmful in small amounts (so, go ahead and try it if you aren’t convinced), but the American Sinus Institute says this is another one that can probably be pinned on the placebo effect.

Drinking plenty of water

Hydration is important for your body whether you’re dealing with allergy symptoms or not, which means drinking enough water is always a smart idea.

There’s also some limited evidence to suggest that water—warm or hot water, in particular—can help relieve your nasal congestion.

Dr. Amina says

Being dehydrated can worsen the sensations of allergic rhinitis and can lead to a dry, raw throat. So it’s best to pay close attention to your hydration status during your worst seasons.

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Incorporating onions into your diet

If you’ve ever cut an onion, you’re already familiar with the weeping eyes and runny nose that shortly follow. That leads some people to believe that these veggies are good for allergies, and that might not be too far fetched.

Dr. Amina says

Onions contain a plant pigment called quercetin, which is sort of like a natural antihistamine, though there isn’t great deal of data of quercetin’s efficacy. So, go ahead and incorporate some raw onions in your diet and see if it helps. Just make sure to have some breath mints handy.

Avoiding foods with mold

Mold is a common allergen, and some people extrapolate that to mean that any foods containing mold—like blue cheese, mushrooms, or even fermented foods—should be avoided.

Dr. Amina says:

Don’t clean out your pantry and your fridge quite yet, as this is likely yet another myth. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says that food fungi typically don’t cause allergy symptoms in your nose, eyes, and lungs. If you’re concerned about a mold allergy, you should focus more on humid areas in your home (like your bathroom, kitchen, and laundry area).

Going on a low histamine diet

Histamines cause your allergies to flare up, so it only makes sense that eating foods low in histamines would help reduce your symptoms.

Dr. Amina Says

Not so fast there with that logic. Though some foods are high in histamines—wine, beer, tomatoes, vinegar, pickles, and cheese for example—there’s no evidence that eating more or less of these foods helps your symptoms.

Eating a lot of fish

You’ve probably heard that fish is good for you, but some research suggests that it can actually help your allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be the real boost here, as they’re anti-inflammatory and can prevent your airways from narrowing.

Dr. Amina says:

Go ahead and eat fish, but don’t rely on it as a key member of your allergy toolkit. With that said, even if your sinuses don’t get a ton of relief, fish is still an important part of a healthy diet with the FDA recommending eight ounces of seafood per week.

Get ahead of your allergies

Can your diet impact your allergies? Well, maybe. Research is still evolving and there isn’t a clear answer to that question quite yet (although, we’re still totally in favor of maintaining a healthy diet regardless of the season).

The foods and drinks you consume might play a limited role in reducing your symptoms. But ultimately, the best way to manage your allergies is to get ahead of them with the right medications and treatment plan.

Need help? Take our short quiz and get a personalized, allergist-picked treatment Pack.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BY
Amina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPH
Picnic Medical Director
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