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.

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

According to a study in the Lung journal in 2015, healthy subjects following a ketogenic diet had a lower carbon dioxide output and carbon dioxide end-tidal partial pressure (PETCO2) compared to those following a Mediterranean diet.

In addition, research from 2003 shows improvement in people with COPD who took a high-fat, low-carb supplement instead of eating a high-carb diet.

Even when reducing carbohydrates, a healthy diet includes a variety of foods. Try to include these in your daily diet.

Protein-rich foods

Eat high-protein, high quality foods, such as grass-fed meat, pastured poultry and eggs, and fish — particularly oily fish such as 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:

Fresh produce

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These nutrients will help to keep your body healthy. Non-starchy vegetables (all except peas, potatoes, and corn) are low in carbohydrates, so they can be included in all diets.

Some fruits and vegetables are more suitable than others — check out the list of foods to avoid in the next section to find out more.

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:

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

Healthy fats

When choosing to eat a higher fat diet, instead of choosing fried foods, opt for snacks and meals containing fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil, fatty fish, and cheese. These foods will provide more overall nutrition, especially in the long-term.

Certain foods can cause problems such as gas and bloating or may 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 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 dietitian 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. Your snacks should contain no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. Whole meals should have no more than 600 mg.

Some fruits

Apples, stone fruits such as apricots and peaches, and melons may cause bloating and gas in some people due to their fermentable carbohydrates. This may lead to breathing problems in people with COPD.

Instead you can focus on low fermentable or low FODMAP fruits like berries, pineapple, and grapes. However, if these foods aren’t a problem for you and your carbohydrate goal allows for fruit, you can include them in your diet.

Some vegetables and legumes

There’s a long list of vegetables and legumes known to cause bloating and gas. What matters is how your body works.

You may want to monitor your intake of the foods below. However, you can continue to enjoy them if they don’t cause a problem for you:

  • beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • corn
  • leeks
  • some lentils
  • onions
  • peas

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, 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 may also cause discomfort and may affect your breathing. Avoid these foods when possible.

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, soda, 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.

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.

If you’re 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 customized eating plan and an achievable exercise program.

If you’re underweight

Some symptoms of COPD, such as 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 infections.

COPD requires you to use more energy when breathing. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a person with COPD may burn up to 10 times as many calories when breathing as a person without COPD.

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

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:

Eat small meals

Try eating five to six small meals per day 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 to avoid wasting 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.

Get comfortable

Sit up 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 so that you can 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.