5 Important Dietary Guidelines For People With COPD

If you have COPD or any other chronic respiratory condition, your diet could mean the difference between feeling "okay" and feeling "great!"

According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, diet has a "direct impact on the biological processes involved in lung function, disease development, and disease outcomes." In other words, refining your diet can significantly improve the way you feel and may even slow the rate at which your disease progresses.

The unfortunate part about all of this is that it's a time where people are surrounded by unhealthy food. From television advertisements to billboards and peer pressure, it can be harder than ever before to resist indulging in unhealthy foods. However, when it comes to COPD, it can be well worth the sacrifice if it means being able to breathe easier.

In this post, we'll take a look at five of the most important dietary guidelines you should follow in order to prevent COPD exacerbations and experience respiratory relief.


Get Enough Lean Protein

For the vast majority of Americans, weight gain is a huge issue. Not only do Americans eat too much, but the average diet is filled with "empty" calories which tend to go straight to the gut and contain little to no nutritional value. However, for COPD patients, keeping the pounds on is often the biggest problem.

COPD patients frequently suffer from something called muscle wasting, also known as muscle atrophy. The reason this happens is because, as lung function decreases, COPD patients have less of a tolerance for strenuous exercise, the same kind of exercise that retains and grows muscle tissue in the body.

While most COPD patients won't be able to retain all their muscle, they can combat muscle loss by eating more lean protein like skinless chicken, fish, eggs, and nuts. The minimum recommended lean protein intake is 1.5 grams per kilogram. For someone who weighs 150 pounds, this means consuming about 102 grams of protein per day.

Of course, you should also ensure that you're maintaining an exercise routine. If you're in the later stages of COPD, you should consider a pulmonary rehabilitation program.


Never Skip Breakfast

Yes, you've probably heard this phrase uttered a million times by now: "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." But this couldn't be more true than for COPD patients.

The reason breakfast is so important is because it's the period that "breaks" the "fasting" that occurred while you were sleeping. When you consume the right foods during this time of day, it puts your metabolism into gear and prepares it for the day ahead. Eating breakfast helps your body maintain energy levels throughout the day, meaning you'll be less likely to reach for junk food for a quick energy boost.


Avoid Sodium

High-sodium diets are known to increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. But another reason COPD patients need to avoid excess salt is because it causes you to retain more water. Water retention can obstruct your breathing and cause you to feel more bloated after each meal.

If you're looking to limit sodium intake, the best way to do so is to cook your own meals or have a loved one cook for you. Many restaurants, especially fast-food chains, use tons of extra salt in order to make their food more flavorful. Take a look at the nutritional information on some of your favorite restaurants and you'll be surprised to find that even food that doesn't taste "salty" is typically very high in sodium.


High Fat and Low Carb Diet

Many people tend to associate "fat" with unhealthy foods like french fries or donuts, but many fats are actually very healthy for COPD patients and should be consumed every day. The healthy fats that you want to consume are called unsaturated fats -- monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These can be found in foods such as vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and fish. Bad fats, on the other hand, are called trans fats and are often found in our favorite fried foods.

Studies have shown that a high (healthy) fat diet that's also low in carbohydrates will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that's retained in the body. The main reason for this is because the metabolism of carbohydrates leads to increased carbon dioxide levels in the body. When you reduce carbs in your diet, it will be easier for your body to expel CO2 and replace it with oxygen.


Stay Hydrated

Last but certainly not least, you need to stay hydrated. Water is a key component of any diet because every cell in your body needs to stay hydrated in order to function its best, and this includes all your cells associated with digestion and breathing.

COPD is often associated with high mucus production in the body. Mucus is a substance produced by your immune system and it's designed to keep your airways and lungs clear of bacteria and allergens. If you don't consume enough water, mucus can become thick making it more difficult for your body to clear it properly. This can lead to lung infection and prevent your food from being digested properly. Most doctors recommend you consume at least 2 liters of water a day or eight 8-ounce glasses of water.



There's a lot that goes into a healthy COPD diet. No matter what stage of the disease you are in, it's important to follow these strict guidelines so that you can breathe easier and reduce the rate at which your disease progresses. Fortunately, there are plenty of great resources out there for you if you'd like more information about this subject.

Your pulmonologist should be able to direct you to a dietician who can work with you one-on-one. They'll take into consideration how severe your COPD is, what your concerns are, and what dietary restrictions will benefit you most. There are also a lot of great online resources for you to use such as lung.org and the COPD Foundation.



3 hsph.harvard.edu  (Harvard Medical School)
Love Health blog posts? Find more here.