Eating a Mediterranean diet could help protect children from respiratory allergies and asthma, a recent study suggests//.
UK, Greek and Spanish researchers assessed the diet and health of almost 700 children living in rural areas of Crete, where such conditions are rare.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea.
Researchers found those children reared on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables were protected against both allergies and asthma.
The study added to existing evidence that such diet could help control asthma symptoms.
More than five million people in the UK currently have asthma, and one in 10 children is affected.
The Crete research was carried out by experts from the UK's National Heart and Lung Institute, the University of Crete, Venezelio General Hospital, in Crete, and the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, in Barcelona.
The team wanted to examine why children in some parts of Europe, such as the UK, get asthma while others, in places like Crete, do not.
They looked at the incidence of asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, and of allergic rhinitis, caused by dust mite or pet allergies.
Parents of the children, who were aged between seven and 18, were also asked how often they ate 58 foods in nine categories; vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, cereal, dairy products, meat, poultry and margarines and oils.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables and fruits and low in saturated fats.
Skin allergies are relatively common in Crete - meaning that, in tests, children react to allergens such as dust mites.
But these do not appear to translate into respiratory allergies, such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.
The research found 80% of the children ate fresh fruit, and over two-thirds of them fresh vegetables, at least twice a day.
Eating oranges, apples, tomatoes and grapes each day, which around 300 children did, was shown to have a protective effect against wheezing and allergic rhinitis.
Red grape skin contains high levels of antioxidants as well as resveratrol, a potent polyphenol, known to curb inflammatory activity.
Children who ate nuts - a rich source of vitamin E - at least three times a week were less likely to wheeze.
Vitamin E is the body's main defense against cell damage caused by free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive chemicals and they are produced in many different ways such as, normal metabolic processes, ultraviolet radiation from the sun, nuclear radiation and the breakdown in the body of spoiled fats. Free radicals have been held responsible for aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other kinds of damage to the body.
Antioxidants are the antidote against free radicals. Vitamins A, C, E and some of the B vitamins, beta-carotene, selenium and some key enzymes in the body are all antioxidants. By intercepting the free radicals, antioxidants prevent them from damaging molecular structures such as our DNA.
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