Food plays a large part in our lives and so diet deserves special attention because it is certainly a contributory factor in causing overbreathing. The Asthma Care programme is seventy per cent retraining of breathing, ﬁfteen per cent regular physical activity and ﬁfteen per cent observation of diet. Buteyko’s research indicates that food increases our breathing, some foods more than others, but water does not affect respiration.
Different food types
Our bodies can only absorb a small amount of energy in the form of vitamin D directly from the sun, but the remainder of our energy is absorbed from the food we eat. Food therefore will vary as a source of energy depending on how far it is removed from the sun. The only foods which receive this energy directly are fruit and vegetables. It is really no coincidence that this food group formed the staple part of people’s diet for centuries. Meat is also a source of energy with animals absorbing the energy from the sun by eating the vegetation. We in turn eat the animals, thus indirectly receiving this energy. Fruit and vegetables are of primary importance. A little meat is essential for good health, but for some people in the Western world it has become an obsession.
The third food group consists of processed food, in- cluding food which has been interfered with by man in the interests of productivity, efﬁciency and commercial gain. Processed food, the scourge of our planet, plays a big role in keeping hospital beds occupied by millions of patients each day. Studies have consistently shown that those with asthma beneﬁt from a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grain and low in fat and alcohol consumption. A healthy diet also helps improve breathing, achieving a higher control pause, and reducing asthma symptoms, leading to overall better health.
By carrying out breathing exercises properly you may experience a substantial reduction in appetite. This is be- cause your body is better able to absorb nutrients from food due to increased oxygenation and improved blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract. Food then serves as a provider of essential nutrients as opposed to feeding disease. An old saying is: ‘Of the food we eat, one third is for bodily requirements and two thirds is for the doctor’. Along with increased observation of breathing, pay attention to your body’s requirement for food. When you do feel a reduction in appetite, do not force yourself to eat as this will slow down your progress. With breathing exercises and normalisation of CO2, people who are overweight will reduce weight naturally, effortlessly and quickly.
✦ Do not overeat:
Only eat when you feel hungry. Eating when you are not hungry means that your body uses energy in order to process food that it does not need. This leads to increased breathing and is not good for your health. Do not eat just because it is a particular time of the day. It is very important to adhere to this in order to help increase your control pause. Stop eating when you feel you have had enough. Overeating will increase the risk factors for chronic degenerative disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritic diseases. It has been well documented that reducing food intake will promote longevity of life. Reducing calorie intake while meeting your body’s requirements of nutrients is the secret to a better and longer life. ‘More die in the United States of too much food than too little’.
Do not eat for a couple of hours before going to bed. If you have something to eat or a protein drink before you go to bed this will cause deep breathing during the night, will result in poor sleep and possible waking from symptoms. Sumo wrestlers intentionally have a large meal before they sleep in order to accumulate weight. The exact same process is happening to us, albeit unintentionally. If your Control Pause is stubborn and you are experienc- ing difﬁculty increasing it even with regular physical activity then your food intake needs to be examined. For example semi-fasting or reducing meals by one per day can be very effective in increasing the Control Pause. During fasting or partial fasting dropping one meal per day will increase corti- sol levels.
✦ Reduce your protein intake:
Professor Buteyko found that high protein foods such as dairy, meat and eggs increase your volume of breathing. Independent of Buteyko, red meat is recognised as a contributory factor in inﬂammation. Research concludes that excessive protein is contributing to a higher prevalence of asthma in teenagers. Have you ever noticed increased asthma symptoms or how tired you can be after eating a large dinner with meat? Professor Buteyko stated that although some people require protein, most people are better suited to a more vegetarian diet.
It should be a priority to reduce or eliminate dairy produce entirely from your diet because it can be mucus producing and may contribute to many allergies and breathing problems. Children with nasal congestion and runny noses often experience a great improvement when they stop drinking cow’s milk. While this will not apply to all people in general, it does seem to apply to many people with asthma. Asian countries have very low dairy consumption due to lactose intolerance and their asthma rate is non existent compared with ours.
If a person is lactose intolerant, dairy products are not a good source of calcium because the body is unable to absorb the calcium from milk sources. If dairy is such a good provider, then why is osteoporosis often higher in countries with the highest dairy consumption? Cow’s milk is specially formulated and should be used only as nature intended which is to feed and develop calves. Milk is not the only food source to provide calcium. Good sources of calcium include kelp, turnip greens, rhubarb, broccoli, lambs kidney, tofu, tinned salmon with bones, baked beans, fortiﬁed oatmeal and other cereals, and all leafy green vegetables. Turnip greens provide an estimated twice as much calcium as milk.
A question often asked is this: what is there left to eat for breakfast if milk is eliminated from the diet? Your morning meal is to break your fast from the day before and to start your new day. Advertising and marketing gurus have unfortunately re-educated the masses to eat stale processed sugary foods for this important meal. Always remember that the foods which are widely advertised are usually processed foods. The best meal by far, which fed our ancestors for generations, is porridge. It provides essential ﬁbre, energy and contains no additives, colouring or preservatives. Porridge cooked in the morning in water with a little honey is a good start to any day. If you are considering reducing your dairy intake, ensure that you eat green vegetables and consider calcium supplements, especially if you are taking steroids.
✦ Limit consumption of processed foods and stimulants:
Consumption of processed foods should be limited. In the 1930s Dr Weston Price conducted an interesting study of traditional groups and their change to a more processed Westernised diet. When the Gaelic people, living on the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland, changed from their tradi- tional diet of small sea foods and oatmeal to the modernised diet of ‘angel food cake, white bread and many white ﬂour commodities, marmalade, canned vegetables, sweetened fruit juices, jams, and confections’, ﬁrst generation children became mouth breathers and their immunity from diseases of civilisation reduced dramatically. The traditional diets were found to provide at least four times the minimum requirement of nutrients, while modern diets did not meet the minimum requirement.
Sugar affects your adrenals which produce your body’s natural source of steroid. Of sugary foods, chocolate has the most harmful effect for any person with asthma. Sometimes it may not be until the following day that symptoms are experienced from the consumption of chocolate. Sugar raises blood sugar levels and causes a depletion of essential miner- als such as magnesium. Interestingly, ‘desserts’ spelled back- wards is ‘stressed’.
Little is known about the real nutritional content of white bread. White ﬂour contains little nutrition and increases mucus production. To quote Dr Price’s book Nutri- tion and Physical Degeneration: ‘Modern white ﬂour has had approximately four ﬁfths of the phosphorous and nearly all of the vitamins removed by processing, in order to produce a ﬂour that can be shipped without becoming infested with insect life. Tests showed that white bread was unable to sustain insect life, while half a slice of whole rye bread was totally consumed by bugs.’ This begs the signiﬁcant question: how come white bread is not good enough for bugs to eat, yet is good enough for humans to eat?
Black tea and especially coffee are regarded as stimulants. The group of asthma drugs known as Xantines are based on the same properties as coffee. These drugs are not now commonly used due to their many side effects. Coffee and tea will temporarily help you to breathe because they stimulate the adrenals and open up the airways in an extreme situation. The amounts needed to have any notice- able effect are large, but this will produce some unpleasant side effects and cause stress to the body in the long run. When Buteyko was asked if coffee was bad for you, his reply was: ‘Try giving it to a cat’. He drew a lot of his conclusions from animals who instinctively know what, when and how much to eat. A person with sinus problems should avoid coffee altogether. Alternatives are herbal teas which are pleasant to drink and without any side effects. Some which are helpful for people with asthma in particular are ginger and lemon tea, and peppermint tea.
✦ Eat more fresh food:
Fresh food is best. Canned food is not recommended due to the contamination of the food by aluminium packaging. Frozen vegetables, while not ideal, are a better source of prepared vegetables than canned. Best of all is fresh fruit and vegetables grown without the use of pesticides or chemi- cal fertilisers. I remember, as a child, watching a woman in our local store who was searching for cabbages which had been attacked by slugs and other ‘insects’. Her reasoning for this was that the cabbage which had been attacked by the insects had far less chemical on it. Chemicals increase your breathing rate because your body must eliminate this source of increased toxicity. Again, commercialisation and produc- tivity take precedence over the health of the people.
It is beneﬁcial to eat ﬁve portions of fresh vegetables and fruit per day, especially greens such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and kelp because these provide good sources of magnesium and calcium. Furthermore, vegetables do not promote the formation of mucus. Lightly cooking food and vegetables provides a richer source of nutrients and has less effect on breathing. However, the more raw the food, the less the effect it has on our breathing.
Ingredients such as garlic, ginger, curry, onions and sea salt are beneﬁcial for asthma. Garlic, ginger and onions boost the immune system, thin mucus and are very helpful for people with respiratory complaints. Professor Buteyko also advocated using sea salt for cooking because it contains numerous essential minerals, thins mucus and is a natural anti-histamine. It is recommended that you drink a small amount of sea salt in warm water any time you have asthma symptoms and especially during the cleansing reaction.
Fruits which may not be helpful for people with asthma include oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes as they are antigenic, i.e. they trigger an immune response. Drinking large amounts of orange juice each day may exacerbate symptoms. Bananas are mucus producing because they contain high potassium, and strawberries and raspberries increase histamine levels.
✦ Food intolerances:
There are many foods to which you can be intolerant but usually eat every day. You may not notice the negative effect because there is a delayed reaction and symptoms run from one day into the next. Regular amounts of the offending food will ameliorate the effect of the initial consumption, resembling the alcoholic who consumes further quantities to obtain relief from his addiction.
The following foods commonly trigger symptoms: milk, eggs, peanuts, soy, wheat, ﬁsh and shellﬁsh. Along with these are many additives such as sulphites, Tartrazine, and monosodium glutamate.
Some foods can give you direct feedback on whether they are helping you or hurting you. For example, if your nose is totally clogged after drinking a cup of coffee – then coffee does not suit you. (It is debatable whether it suits anyone.)
Testing for food intolerance does require some detective work. Some indicators of food intolerance are foods that your parents are allergic to, foods you crave and foods you eat between meals. Crisps and chocolate are the most common items to fall into this category.
A good method of determining which foods you may be intolerant to is by eliminating them for a period of weeks. It is worth noting that if you cannot do without a food for twenty-one days, then you are very likely to be addicted to that food. For example, if you feel that milk exacerbates your symptoms, then for two weeks do not drink milk or consume any product which contains milk. By then you should have noticed an improvement in your condition if milk does not agree with you. If you do decide to reintroduce an offending food into your diet, be very careful because the reaction may be far greater following a period of withdrawal. It is advisable to speak with a nutritional expert before embarking on an elimination diet.
Other tests include missing your evening meal. On waking consume a small quantity of the suspect food. If your pulse rises more than ten beats ﬁfteen minutes after eating, then consider eliminating this food from your diet and observe if there is an improvement in your condition.