Did you know that your diet can impact your breathing? It can, and getting the right nutrients from your diet can help you breathe easier. When you have COPD, a properly balanced diet not only improves the health of your body overall, but it can help you manage your COPD symptoms and reduce complicating factors like inflammation and weak muscles.
When you metabolize the food you eat, your body uses that food and the oxygen you breathe to create energy. This produces carbon dioxide as a waste product, but certain foods produce more carbon dioxide when they’re metabolized than others. Since breathing takes more work when you have COPD, you may have a harder time fully emptying your lungs, which can make it harder for the body to rid itself of carbon dioxide. This, in turn, requires even more breathing effort from you in the end. However, if you eat foods that don’t cause your body to produce as much carbon dioxide, you can reduce the effort that goes into your breathing.
Additionally, a diet that’s rich in protein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce inflammation in the body and help your body fight infection and better manage your COPD.
How to Eat to Improve Breathing
Your ideal diet should be based on your overall health, taking your weight, family history and lifestyle into account. Before you commit to a major change in your diet, talk to your doctor about what foods are best for your personal health—particularly if you need to focus on gaining or losing weight. That said, there are some general guidelines that can benefit people with COPD.
Generally speaking, a diet that includes complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich foods, plenty of protein and healthy fats is best for people with COPD. These foods are beneficial to your health overall, but they can help you breathe easier by minimizing inflammation in the body, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide produced during metabolism and improving muscle strength. Moreover, since breathing requires more energy for people with COPD—in fact, breathing can require up to 10 times the calories needed by a person without COPD—it’s essential that you consume the right foods to keep your energy up so you can breathe as effectively as possible.
What Should You Eat to Improve Breathing?
Your exact diet should be based on a conversation with your doctor, but most older folks can benefit from eating the foods suggested below. Monitor your weight carefully as being both underweight and overweight can cause other COPD complications that could be avoided with proper nutrition. Then choose foods primarily from the following categories to help you breathe better.
Fiber is essential to heart health and aids digestion. Try high fiber foods like:
- Whole-grain cereal (like steel cut oatmeal)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
Healthy proteins provide sustained energy and improve muscle mass and strength. If you eat a lot of simple or refined carbohydrates, switch them out for proteins like these instead:
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean meat and poultry
Complex carbohydrates take time for the body to break down, providing a sustained source of energy. They’re often sources of fiber, too. Incorporate these carbohydrates into your diet:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole-grain pasta, bread and brown rice
Metabolizing fat produces the least amount of carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used by the body. However, not all fats are good. Choose healthy fats like mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, which don’t contain cholesterol, like:
- Canola, safflower, corn, olive or avocado oils
- Fish rich in omega-3s, like salmon
- Nuts and seeds
Older folks benefit especially from the calcium and vitamin D found in dairy, dark leafy greens and salmon to maintain strong bones, and the protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids provided by nuts and seeds boost heart health.
What Should You Avoid to Improve Breathing?
Certain foods can exacerbate your COPD symptoms, making it harder to breathe by increasing inflammation, mucus and carbon dioxide in the body. Here’s what to limit so that you don’t make your COPD symptoms worse.
- Simple carbohydrates like candy, soft drinks, white sugar and baked goods, which produce the most carbon dioxide during metabolism
- Trans or saturated fats in foods like lard, shortening, margarine, butter, meat-derived fats, animal skin, hydrogenated vegetable oils, fried food, fast food, crackers and sweets like cookies and pastries, which are bad for heart health
- Excess sodium, which can cause swelling (edema) and increase blood pressure.
● Foods that cause gas and bloating, like carbonated drinks and cruciferous veggies, which can press on your diaphragm and make it hard to breathe properly.
● Certain dairy products, like ice cream and yogurt, can cause increases in phlegm, making breathing more difficult.
● Processed and cured meats, which contain nitrates and negatively impact lung health
Customizing Holiday Foods to Benefit Your COPD
With the fall season in full swing and the holidays on the horizon, you might wonder how to incorporate your favorite seasonal foods without aggravating your COPD. Rest assured—there are plenty of fall and winter foods to help you feel both healthy and festive.
- Roasted pumpkin seeds: These provide magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber and immune-boosting vitamin E to benefit bone and heart health and fight inflammation.
- Apple cider: True apple cider is an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidants, and may support heart health, decrease blood pressure and benefit digestion.
- Sweet potatoes: Rich in vitamins A, C and B6, sweet potatoes support the health of your brain, vision, digestion, nervous and immune systems.
- Turkey: This holiday favorite is an excellent lean protein (skip the skin). Avoid those that are plumped with saline, though, as they’ll have too much sodium.
- Pumpkin or butternut squash: Both are high in vitamins A and C, as well as antioxidants and fiber.
- Nuts: Set out a bowl of nuts and a nutcracker during the holidays. Since these offer protein, fiber and healthy fat, they’re a smart choice for people with COPD.
A COPD diet doesn’t have to eliminate flavor! Just be thoughtful about what you eat and how it affects your COPD, and you can reduce your symptoms and enjoy flavorful food, no matter the season.
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