A healthy diet cannot cure chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but can help your body manage infections, including chest infections that may lead to hospitalization. Eating healthfully can make you feel better, too.

Maintaining your nutrition while managing this condition doesn’t have to be boring or difficult. Just follow these healthy tips.

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A reduced carbohydrate diet results in lower carbon dioxide production. This may help people with COPD better manage their health.

Diets rich in whole foods, vegetables, and healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, can preserve lung function in COPD and even reduce the risk of it developing.

Protein-rich foods

High quality protein sources include:

  • plant-based sources like tofu, tempeh, and seitan
  • beans, pulses, including chickpeas and edamame
  • lean poultry
  • eggs
  • lean red meat
  • oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines

Complex carbohydrates

If you include carbohydrates in your diet, opt for complex carbohydrates. These foods are high in fiber, which helps improve the function of the digestive system and blood sugar management.

Foods to incorporate into your diet include:

  • peas
  • bran
  • potatoes with skin
  • lentils
  • quinoa
  • beans
  • oats
  • barley

Potassium-rich foods

Potassium is vital to lung function, so a potassium deficiency can cause breathing issues. Try to eat foods containing high levels of potassium, such as:

  • avocados
  • dark leafy greens
  • tomatoes
  • asparagus
  • beets
  • potatoes
  • bananas
  • oranges

Potassium-rich foods can be beneficial if your dietitian or doctor has prescribed a diuretic medication.

Healthy fats

When choosing to eat a higher fat diet, instead of selecting fried foods, opt for snacks and meals containing fats like:

  • avocados
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • coconut and coconut oil
  • olives and olive oil
  • fatty fish
  • cheese

Certain foods can cause problems, such as gas and bloating, or have little to no nutritional value. Foods to avoid or minimize include:

  • Salt: Too much sodium or salt in your diet causes water retention, which may affect your breathing ability.
  • Certain fruits: Apples, stone fruits, such as apricots and peaches, and melons may cause bloating and gas in some people due to fermentable carbohydrates. This may lead to breathing problems in people with COPD.
  • Some vegetables: Many vegetables and legumes cause bloating and gas, including:
    • beans
    • Brussels sprouts
    • cabbage
    • cauliflower
    • corn
    • onions
    • peas
  • Dairy: Some dairy products, such as milk and cheese, make phlegm thicker.
  • Fried foods: Fried, deep fried, or greasy foods can cause gas and indigestion. Heavily spiced foods may also cause discomfort and may affect your breathing.

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.

Your weight can affect COPD symptoms and management.

If you’re overweight

Having overweight or obesity can exacerbate COPD symptoms. Excess body weight often means your heart and lungs must work harder, making breathing more difficult. This may also increase the demand for oxygen.

Your weight will affect the number of calories your body requires to function. Your doctor or dietitian can advise you on managing your weight by following a customized eating plan and an achievable exercise program.

Learn more about the relationship between weight and COPD.

If you’re underweight

Some symptoms of COPD, such as lack of appetite, depression, or feeling unwell, can cause you to eat less and ultimately lose weight. If you’re underweight, you may feel tired or be more prone to infections.

People with COPD typically require more energy for breathing and other muscle functions. As a result, adequate energy intake is essential.

If you’re underweight, try to include healthy, high calorie snacks in your diet.

With COPD, making food preparation a straightforward and stress-free process is important. Make mealtime easier, encourage your appetite if you’re underweight, and stick to a healthy eating program by following these guidelines:

Eat small meals

Try eating five to six small meals daily rather than three large ones. Eating smaller meals may help you avoid filling up your stomach too much and give your lungs enough room to expand, making breathing easier.

Eat your main meal early

Try to eat your main meal early in the day. This will boost your energy levels for the whole day.

Choose quick and easy foods

Choose foods that are quick and easy to prepare. This will help you avoid wasting energy. Sit down when preparing meals so 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.

Get comfortable

Sit comfortably in a high-backed chair when eating to avoid putting too much pressure on your lungs.

Make enough for leftovers

When making a meal, make a bigger portion to refrigerate or freeze some for later and have nutritious meals available when you feel too tired to cook.

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 while emphasizing higher fat intake can help you manage symptoms and minimize complications.