Nutrition Guide

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chances are you’ve been told that you need to improve your eating habits. Your doctor may even have referred you to a registered dietitian to create a personal diet plan. A healthy diet won’t cure COPD but it can help your body fight off infections, including chest infections that may lead to hospitalization. Eating healthfully can make you feel better, too.

Maintaining good nutrition on top of dealing with this condition doesn’t have to be boring or difficult. Just follow these healthy diet tips.

Diet Tip #1: Stay Balanced

A healthy diet includes a variety of foods. Try to include these in your daily diet:

  • low-fat protein foods, such as lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish — particularly oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines
  • complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread, bran, brown rice, lentils, quinoa, beans, and oats — these foods are also high in fiber, which helps improve the function of the digestive system
  • fresh fruits and vegetables: these contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which will help to keep your body healthy (some fruits and vegetables are more suitable than others — check out the foods to avoid list below to find out more)
  • foods containing high levels of potassium, including bananas, oranges, avocado, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, asparagus, beets and potatoes (potassium-rich foods can be especially useful if your dietitian or doctor has prescribed you a diuretic medication)

Diet Tip #2: Know What to Avoid

Certain foods can cause problems such as gas and bloating, contain too much fat, or are low in nutritional value. Foods to avoid or minimize include:

Salt

Too much sodium or salt in your diet causes water retention, which may affect your ability to breathe. Remove the salt shaker from the table and don’t add salt to your cooking. Use unsalted herbs and spices to flavor food instead. Check with your dietician or healthcare provider about low-sodium salt substitutes. They may contain ingredients that could affect your health negatively. Despite what many people believe, most sodium intake doesn’t come from the salt shaker, but rather what’s already in the food. Be sure to check the labels of the foods you buy and avoid any containing more than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving for snacks, and more than 600 milligrams for whole meals.

Some Fruits

Apples, stone fruits like apricots and peaches, and melons may cause bloating and gas in some, which may lead to breathing problems in people with COPD. If these foods aren’t a problem for you, you can include them in your diet.

Some Vegetables

There’s a long list of vegetables known to cause bloating and gas. What matters is how your body works. You can continue to enjoy these vegetables if they don’t cause a problem for you: beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, leeks, onions, peas, peppers, and scallions. Soybeans may also cause gas.

Dairy Products

Some people find that dairy products, such as milk and cheese, make phlegm thicker. However, if dairy products don’t seem to make your phlegm worse, then you can continue to eat them.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains caffeine, which may interfere with your medication. Check with your doctor to find out if you should avoid or limit your intake.

Fried Foods

Foods that are fried, deep fried, or greasy can cause gas and indigestion. Heavily spiced foods can also cause discomfort and may affect your breathing. Avoid these foods when possible.

Tip #3: Don’t Forget to Watch What You Drink

People with COPD should try to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Around six to eight (8-ounce) glasses of noncaffeinated beverages are recommended per day. Adequate hydration keeps mucus thin and makes it easier to cough up.

Limit or avoid caffeine altogether, as it could interfere with your medication. Caffeinated drinks include coffee, tea, sodas, and energy drinks, such as Red Bull.

Ask your doctor about alcohol. You may be advised to avoid or limit alcoholic beverages, as they can interact with medications. Alcohol may also slow down your breathing rate and make it more difficult to cough up mucus.

Likewise, talk to your doctor if you have diagnosed heart problems as well as COPD. Sometimes it’s necessary for people with heart problems to limit their fluid intake.

Tip #4: Watch Your Weight — In Both Directions

People with chronic bronchitis have a tendency to be obese, while those with emphysema have a tendency to be underweight. This makes diet and nutrition assessment a vital part of COPD treatment.

Underweight

Some symptoms of COPD, like lack of appetite, depression, or feeling unwell in general, can cause you to become underweight. If you’re underweight, you may feel weak and tired or be more prone to picking up infections. Because COPD requires you to use more energy when breathing, you may need up to 10 times more calories per day than a person without the condition, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If you’re underweight, you need to include healthy, high-calorie snacks in your diet. Items to add to your grocery list include:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • oats, quinoa, and beans
  • cheese
  • avocado
  • nuts and nut butters
  • granola

Overweight

When you’re overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder, making breathing more difficult. Excess body weight may also increase the demand for oxygen. Your doctor or dietitian can advise you on how to achieve a healthier body weight by following a healthy eating plan and an achievable exercise program.

Tip #5: Be Prepared

COPD can be a challenging condition to live with, so it’s important to make food preparation a straightforward and stress-free process. Make mealtime easier, encourage your appetite if you’re underweight, and stick to a healthy eating program by following these general guidelines:

  • Try eating five to six small meals per day, rather than three large ones. Eating smaller meals means may help you avoid filling up your stomach too much and give your lungs enough room to expand, making breathing easier.
  • Try to eat your main meal early in the day; this will boost your energy levels for the whole day.
  • Choose foods that are quick and easy to prepare to avoid wasting your energy. Sit down when preparing meals so that you aren’t too tired to eat and ask family and friends to assist you with meal preparation if necessary. You may also be eligible for a meal home delivery service.
  • Sit up comfortably in a high-backed chair when eating to avoid putting too much pressure on your lungs.
  • When making a meal, make a bigger portion so that you can freeze some for later and have nutritious meals available when you feel too tired to cook.

The Takeaway

It’s important to stay mindful of your overall health when you have COPD, and nutrition is a big part of that. Planning healthy meals and snacks can help you manage symptoms and minimize complications.