Like everyone else, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) feel their best when they consistently eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is no specific diet for COPD, but many physicians and researchers studying the effects of nutrition in people with COPD recommend a diet higher in fat, protein, vegetables and fruits and lower in carbohydrates. Eating a nutritious diet can help you fight COPD symptoms and infections and maintain optimal health.
Some popular diets may contain toxic levels of some nutrients or dangerously low levels of others. No diet is ever a good substitute for clinically proven COPD drug therapies.
What does it involve?
Always consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
If you have difficulty eating due to breathlessness or discomfort, try eating more slowly. Choose foods that are easy to chew. You can also eat several small meals instead of three large meals to avoid feelings of bloating. Rest before meals, and eat at times of day when you have the most energy. Save liquids for the end of the meal so you do not feel too full too soon. Clear your airways an hour before meals to minimize discomfort. If you have been prescribed long-term oxygen therapy, use oxygen during meals.
Maintaining a healthy weight is vital for managing COPD. Consult your doctor to determine a healthy target weight for you. Weigh yourself once a week, and keep track of the measurements in order to know how much you are losing or gaining over time.
If you are overweight, this puts even more stress on your lungs to supply enough oxygen to your body. However, people with COPD are more often at risk of becoming underweight and malnourished because they expend much more energy to breathe. Some people with COPD need to add extra calories to their diet in order to keep from becoming malnourished and underweight. Malnourishment can lead to weakening muscles and a decline in lung function. If you are at risk for being underweight, focus your diet on high-calorie, high-nutrient foods. Choose foods high in unsaturated fat, plus vegetables and fruit. Unsaturated fat is plentiful in walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, canola and olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, lake trout and sardines. These foods are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fat may also help fight inflammation as well as heart disease. If you have heart disease, ask your doctor how much and what kind of fats are appropriate for you to eat.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, including Vitamin C. Antioxidants are nutrients that may help prevent cancer and reduce inflammation. Antioxidants have also been linked to good pulmonary health. Foods such as cantaloupe, citrus, tomatoes, mango, pineapple and berries are especially rich in Vitamin C. Fresh produce is also often high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and lower in calories. Eat as many of these foods as possible. If you are in danger of being underweight, eat them with dip or dressing to add calories.
People with COPD need plenty of protein to help preserve muscle mass. You may need extra protein if you are fighting an infection. Protein is found in meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, lentils and dairy products.
Certain foods have been shown to increase your body’s production of carbon dioxide gas, which can make your lungs work harder and increase breathlessness. Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and cereal, produce the most carbon dioxide. Try to focus your carbohydrate intake to whole-grain products and avoid simple carbohydrates such as table sugar, soft drinks, cake and candy. Other foods that may produce gas and make you feel bloated include fried, greasy, or spicy foods, beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, avocados, melons and onions.
Dietary fiber keeps your heart healthy and your bowels working properly. You can eat more high-fiber foods including vegetables, dried or fresh fruits, legumes such as peas or beans, some nuts including almonds and pistachios, and whole-grain products. Making the switch from white bread to whole-grain, from white rice to brown rice, or from regular pasta to whole-grain pasta will also add fiber to your diet. Always check labels to make sure products are whole-grain.
People with COPD are at increased risk for osteoporosis, especially if they are taking corticosteroids. For this reason, it is important to consume food with plenty of calcium. Milk, fat-free yogurt, dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and leafy greens, and juice or soy milk fortified with calcium are all good sources. Contrary to popular belief, drinking milk does not cause your body to produce more mucus. Vitamin D is essential for your body to absorb the calcium. Milk is also a good course for Vitamin D. Soy milk and many alternative milk products are also fortified with calcium and Vitamin D.
It is also wise to limit your salt intake. High blood pressure is a common side effect of some COPD medications, and eating salt exacerbates that problem. A high-sodium diet can raise your blood pressure, increasing your risk for heart disease. Salt can also cause fluid retention and contribute to shortness of breath. Experiment with using lemon juice or different spices such as pepper or curry powder as a way of enhancing the taste of food.
Drinking plenty of fluids can help keep your lungs clear and fight dryness and irritation caused by oxygen therapy. Milk is a good source of fluid and nutrients.
You may have food allergies or other reactions to certain foods that exacerbate your COPD symptoms or medication side effects whenever you eat them. If you suspect you have problems with certain foods, begin keeping a food journal that tracks what you eat and how you feel each day. You can also ask your doctor for an allergy test.
Ask your doctor about consuming alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. They may interfere with your medications or exacerbate some COPD symptoms.
Optimizing your nutrition will help you remain strong, fight infections and feel more energetic. Consistently eating a healthy diet and ensuring that you receive enough calories can help you breathe better and may reduce your dependence on oxygen therapy.
Studies have associated being underweight and malnourished with more and longer hospitalizations, poor wound healing and a higher rate of respiratory failure in people with COPD.
A study published in 1993 recommended that high-fat diets may be more beneficial for some people with COPD than high-carbohydrate diets.
Side effects of some COPD medications, which can include nausea and loss of appetite, may make it difficult to eat regular meals or focus on a healthy diet.
Breathlessness and fatigue may make it more difficult to find the energy to prepare fresh, healthy meals. Making large batches of food in advance and freezing several portions for the future can help conserve energy.
COPD symptoms such as chronic mouth-breathing, which can alter taste, and breathlessness can make eating less pleasurable.
You may feel disappointed to give up favorite foods. However, think of diet changes as a chance to explore unfamiliar foods and find new favorites.
Depending on where you live and whether you need to use oxygen therapy when you leave the house, it may be harder to get to a grocery