The survey, of more than 2,000 people aged between 18 and 70, suggests that the more vitamin C people eat as part of a healthy diet, the better their lung function.
John Britton and a team at City Hospital Nottingham carried out a survey on 2,633 people in the Nottingham area.
The team tested lung function - breathing capacity - and investigated whether those interviewed had common allergies, such as to pollen or cat fur, and asked them about whether they had smoked.
The subjects were also asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire about their eating habits, particularly looking at vitamin C intake. After allowing for age, allergies and smoking habits, it was found that those with vitamin- enriched diets tended to breathe easier.
Diet has long been thought to play a part in asthma, with links being suggested between asthma and a low intake of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and elements such as copper and selenium nutrients found in fish oil. For example, asthma is rare among the Inuits, who have large amounts of fish oil in their diet. Magnesium - found in almonds, leafy green vegetables and fish - had a similar effect.
Another theory was that sodium was in some way implicated in the development of asthma because there is an association between death rates from asthma in different parts of the UK and the amounts of sodium in the diet.
"The bottom line is that either there is something in a traditional healthy diet that is good for your lungs, or there is something in the Western diet that is bad for your lungs," said Dr Britton.
"This might mean that vitamin C is good and that if you have a high intake your lungs will be better protected from decay."
He added: "Because changing the diet is simple and safe, if a link were to be found between what people eat and whether they have asthma, the potential for treating and preventing the condition would be immense."
Martyn Partridge of the National Asthma Campaign, which funded the research, said: "A connection between diet and asthma is only now emerging, but it is possible that in future we may be able to give clearer advice about foods which have a protective effect."