April 17/The West Australian (Perth) -- A Mediterranean diet in childhood could cut the risk of developing asthma by up to 80 per cent, new research suggests.

Nutrition website NutraIngredients has reported a cross-sectional survey of almost 700 children aged between seven and 18 on the Greek island of Crete found a diet high in nuts, grapes, oranges and tomatoes reduced wheezing by 50%, 81%, 70% and 68%, respectively.

Adults are already encouraged to eat a Mediterranean-style diet after several studies revealed it improved longevity, reduced heart disease and cholesterol and offered protection against serious disease like cancer.

The Mediterranean diet has high amounts of cereals, wine, fruit, nuts, legumes, wholegrains, fish and olive oil -- which are rich in beta-carotene, essential minerals, antioxidants and polyphenols.

"A high dietary intake of commonly consumed fruits and vegetables and nuts may have a protective role on the prevalence of asthma-like symptoms and (hay fever)," University of Crete lead author Leda Chatzi wrote in the British Medical Journal Thorax.

Children who ate many foods from the Mediterranean diet had a 66% reduction in hay fever, a 46% reduction in skin allergies and a 39% reduction in asthma-like symptoms.

A daily intake of oranges, apples, and tomatoes offered high protection against wheezing, and oranges and kiwi fruit offered resistance to hay fever.

From the April 23, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash