Why your children should eat their veggies
Researchers found that among 460 Spanish children followed from birth to age six, those who ate the most fish were less likely to develop allergies than their peers who ate fish the least often. Similarly, asthma was far less common among children with the highest intake of so-called "fruity" vegetables - namely, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and green beans.
The findings suggest that parents should be sure to include these foods in their children's diets, according to lead study author Dr. Leda Chatzi, of the University of Crete, Heraklion, Greece.
This is particularly important, Chatzi told Reuters Health, if a child is at heightened risk of allergies and asthma - due to factors like family history of allergies, for instance.
The study, published in the journal Paediatric Allergy and Immunology, included 460 children whose parents were interviewed periodically over the first 6,5 years of the child's life.
Parents answered questions on a range of factors that affect a child's allergy risk - including the mother's diet during pregnancy, breastfeeding, exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke and family history of allergies and asthma.
Even with these factors considered, the children's diets were strongly related to their risks of allergies and asthma. Children who ate the most fish were 57 percent less likely to develop allergies than their peers who ate the least amount of fish.
Meanwhile, the children who ate the most fruity vegetables were 62 percent less likely to have problems with wheezing, a prime symptom of asthma, compared with their peers who ate the least amount.
Fruit and other types of vegetables were unrelated to asthma and allergy risk.
One theory, Chatzi explained, is that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables help protect lung tissue from damage. "Fruity" vegetables such as tomatoes and green beans are particularly good sources of antioxidants like alpha- and beta-carotene, vitamin C and lycopene, the researcher noted. (Tomatoes are actually considered to be a fruit.)
As for fish, fatty varieties like salmon are a major source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, Chatzi said. It's thought that because omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory actions, they affect children's immune system development in a way that guards against allergies.
The bottom line, according to Chatzi, is that certain foods that are generally good for children and adults alike may offer specific protection against allergies and asthma.
"This study provides parents with specific advice about the health-promotion benefits of including fish and fruity vegetables as part of a balanced diet for...their children."
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