I have several patients with COPD and sometimes they have a hard time breathing comfortably, or get fatigued, especially after eating larger or heavier meals. As I tell them, it’s better to eat 4-6 smaller meals a day than 3 heavier ones as eating too much at one time makes much more work for their respiratory system. If you have COPD, here are some other helpful recommendations for choosing the right foods to help you breathe easier.
Your Diet Can Help You Breathe Easier
Normally, we burn calories to digest our food. People with COPD, however, burn calories 10 times faster than people without the condition. Therefore, it’s important to eat the right foods in the right amounts to keep up your energy levels. Generally, people with COPD tend to eat less later in the day because they become fatigued so breakfast is one of their most important meals of the day. It’s crucial, then, to eat the best possible nutrient-packed breakfast while your energy levels are higher earlier in the day. A combination of protein and low glycemic carbs is your best bet for meals in general so a nutritious breakfast might look like this:
- 2 eggs
- 2 slice whole wheat/grain toast
- 2 apricots, or 1 plum, 1/2 cup of strawberries or blueberries
Certain foods can energize COPD or they can slow you down and make your lung congestion worse. Here are some foods that can help your respiratory problems:
- Proteins help fire your metabolism and keep it running at higher speed to boost energy. Also helps repair tissues of the lungs. Meats, fish, nuts, dairy. Also, protein drinks can be used but be sure they do not contain a lot of sugar.
- Low glycemic carbohydrates (foods with less than 5-8 grams of sugar in them, read labels). Whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa.
- Fluids. Plenty of water and fluid intake helps thin mucus congestion in the airways and makes it easier to clear your lungs.
- Fiber. Be sure to get between 25-30 grams to avoid constipation, which can put pressure on your lungs. Add legumes (beans, peas) to your diet to add protein, fiber and low glycemic carbs at the same time. Use a product like Beano to help dissipate gas buildup which can also put pressure on your lungs and make it harder to breathe.
- Potassium. If you take diuretics to get rid of excess fluid in your lungs, you likely need more potassium which can be gotten from natural sources of orange juice, bananas, white kidney beans, vegetable juice.
- Fruits/Vegetables. Eat between 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables every day to get necessary antioxidants.
Here are some foods that will hinder, or worsen your COPD:
- Dairy. Many people, as well as some of my patients, feel that milk, cheese and other dairy products causes excess mucus in their lungs. However, there are no scientific studies to back up this claim. While dairy is good for its calcium content and proteins it contains, if you feel it results in more mucus when you drink it, perhaps you have sensitivity to some other component used in the processing of dairy products. Switch to unsweetened almond or soy milk. These have almost the same amount of calcium as cow’s milk without the protein that may be causing the excess mucus response.
- Caffeine. Limit your caffeine intake as it can interact with COPD medications and drugs used in inhalers and cause nervousness or restlessness. Remember, chocolate has caffeine in it as well.
- Salt. Limit your sodium intake (no more than 300 mg per serving of food, read labels) as it can cause retention of fluids and make it harder for you to breathe. Salt substitutes are higher in potassium. Be sure to ask your doctor if the higher potassium in these will interfere with your medications.
- Keep a normal weight. Along with eating the right foods to help you breathe easier, as I tell my patients, getting to a normal weight will also help their COPD. Getting adequate exercise will help you thin mucus as well as lose excess weight.
- Wear your oxygen while eating. As stated earlier, COPD patients require extra energy while eating, so if you use oxygen, be sure to use it while eating.
Although COPD can be a trying condition to live with, eating the right foods can help you not only maintain your general health but breathe better and easier. Be sure to address any breathing difficulties you may have with food intake with your doctor.