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COPD Diet: Foods to Have and Avoid

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
4
November 12, 2021

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. It is often referred to as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. It is often preventable and treatable. If you or a loved one has COPD, there are steps to take to handle  the lifestyle changes this disease brings. Learn about what you can do with your diet in this article.

Foods and Nutrients that Protect Your Lungs

The research surrounding diet for COPD is mostly limited to observational studies, and should not replace medications or medical advice for treatment of COPD. However, evidence suggests a highly protective effect related to the following foods:

Fruits and Vegetables

A couple observational studies as well as larger analyses indicate that consuming fruits (especially hard ones like apples) and vegetables is linked with improved lung function and reduced risk of getting COPD. This may be because fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and a compound called polyphenols, which are touted to reduce inflammation in the organs, and oftentimes provide this same  benefit for your lungs.

Whole grains and Dietary Fiber

Diets high in fiber and whole grains have been linked to lower risk of death and better lung function for patients with COPD and other chronic respiratory diseases. Although fiber can come from many foods, including fruits and vegetables, research highly suggests that fibers coming from cereals and other high-fiber grains like beans may be even more protective.

Vitamin D

Several studies show a correlation between vitamin D and your lung health. In many studies, it was found that vitamin D supplementation was beneficial, especially for patients that already have a vitamin D level below 10 ng/mL, and could even reduce the complications of COPD.

Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fats

That healthy kind of fat that helps lower blood cholesterol and heart disease risk may get its protective benefits by reducing inflammation. Like fruits and vegetables, foods rich in this healthy omega-3 fat may reduce your risk of getting COPD, and may also reduce your risk of worsening symptoms. Foods like fish (primarily salmon and tuna), nuts (especially walnuts), and seeds (especially ground flax seeds), and also avocados are especially rich in this type of fat. But just remember- research has indicated that although eating this type of fat, by itself, doesn’t seem to help reduce risk, but eating these kinds of fat along with a generally healthy diet is more likely to provide the COPD patient some relief.

Foods to Avoid

Processed Red Meats

Cured and processed meats contain two compounds known to cause inflammation in the lungs and other parts of the body. Consumption of cured meats has been linked to poorer lung function, increased risk of getting COPD and getting hospitalized from COPD complications, especially among people who smoke.

Soda

Soda is highly linked to worsening of the COPD symptoms. This is likely related to the fact that soda and other sweet beverages are linked to increased glucose levels, and this, in turn, causes inflammation.

Overall meal patterns

Meal Timing

People with COPD can often get tired quickly, especially when their blood oxygen typical levels are below 90%. For these patients, it may be difficult for them to prepare meals, and even difficult to take breaths between bites of food. Small meals, more often are highly encouraged to reduce the strain on the body while eating.

It is also encouraged for the COPD patient to prepare more meals all at once and freeze the leftovers. It is much easier to prepare your meals ahead and just remove them from the freezer and microwave. It reduces exertion.

Rest before eating, and make sure your breathing is as steady as possible to further reduce your risk of having difficulty while eating.

Strict Mediterranean Diet Pattern

One great diet that sums everything up into a healthful guide is the Mediterranean Diet. This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, and also low-fat dairy-- everything that COPD research suggests is good for us.

Takeaways

Though COPD is a disease that people have for life, having a managed, and heathy diet will help you breathe easier! Remember these key points:

  • Eat smaller meals, more often
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods, like fruits, vegetables, and healthy omega-3 fats
  • Eat a diet high in fiber
  • Avoid processed red meats, sodas, and foods low in nutrition, such as soup, broth and jello

Remember that your diet may have a direct effect on your lung function and the progression of COPD. Although a good diet won’t eliminate the need for medication, it may help reduce inflammation and symptoms. Talk to your Dietitian for a more clear picture of what to eat based on your needs, preferences, and condition. Or ask your provider for a referral to our services!