If you’ve recently been diagnosed with 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 dietician to create a personal diet plan. A healthy diet won’t cure COPD, it will help your body fight off infections and make you feel better.
According to the Denver-based organization National Jewish Health—a leading research center specializing in respiratory, cardiac, and immune disorders, “eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight are important parts of managing COPD.” Good nutrition doesn’t have to be boring or difficult to follow. 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.
- Whole grain foods such as whole grain bread, bran, brown rice, and oats. These foods are also high in fiber, which helps improve the function of the digestive system.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. They contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which will help to keep your body healthy. Some fruits and vegetables are more suitable than others; refer to the foods to avoid list below to find out more.
- Foods containing high levels of potassium, including bananas, oranges, tomatoes, asparagus, and potatoes. Potassium-rich foods can be useful if your dietician or doctor has prescribed you 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 include:
Too much sodium or salt in your diet causes water retention, which may affect your ability to breathe. Remove the saltshaker 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 health care provider about low-sodium salt substitutes. They may contain ingredients that could affect your health. Also, be sure to check the labels of the foods you buy and avoid any containing more than 300g of sodium per serving.
Apples, avocados, and melons can cause bloating and gas, which may lead to breathing problems in people with COPD. If these foods aren’t a problem for you, you include them in your diet.
There’s a long list of vegetables known to cause bloating and gas in most people, it’s a matter of 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 and lentils may also cause gas.
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 contains caffeine, which may interfere with your medication. Check with your doctor to find out if you should avoid or limit your intake.
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 (eight ounce) glasses of non-caffeinated 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, such as cola, and energy drinks like 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. However, the National Emphysema Foundation notes that, “small amounts of alcohol (for example, a drink before dinner or a glass of wine or beer with dinner), can enhance your appetite and may be beneficial.”
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
Patients with chronic bronchitis may 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.
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 ten times more calories per day than a person without the condition. If you’re underweight, you need to include healthy, high-calorie snacks such as milk, eggs, bagels, cheese, peanut butter, and granola bars in your diet.
When you’re overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder, thus making breathing more difficult. Excess body weight may also increase the demand for oxygen. Your doctor or dietician 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 that you avoid filling your stomach up 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 help 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 will have nutritious meals available when you feel too tired to cook.