Perhaps you’ve been referred to a dietician and additional healthcare professionals who can give you advice on what constitutes a healthy diet. But here’s a quick overview that may help you to get started.
COPD Guideline 1: Control Your Weight
When we consider diet, we often think about calorie intake. This is important, but guidelines for calorie intake will change as your COPD progresses. In the early stages, your recommendations will focus on controlling the problems of being overweight. In the later stages, as breathing becomes more difficult and requires more energy, you may need to increase calorie intake to avoid becoming underweight.
Discuss your calorie requirements with your healthcare professionals. This is especially important if you notice that you or a loved one is gaining or losing two pounds a day or five pounds a week.
COPD Guideline 2: Follow Basic Dietary Rules
- Avoid the Bloat
Steer clear of foods that cause you to feel bloated or gassy because this may make breathing more difficult.
- Eat Small
You’ll likely do better if you eat smaller, more frequent meals.
If your doctor has prescribed oxygen therapy for long periods of the day, continue wearing your oxygen cannula while eating.
- Fiber Up
Eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily2—to help move food through your digestive tract.
- Cut Salt
Decrease sodium intake, especially if your body is retaining water and your feet and ankles swell. This water retention can increase your blood pressure and shortness of breath. Pay careful attention to canned and processed foods which are sometimes loaded with salt; choose low-sodium options with fewer than 140 mg of sodium per serving3
COPD Guideline 3: Choose COPD Super Foods
- Pack In the Proteins
Lean meat, fish, eggs, poultry, legumes, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein. Protein helps your body function and also produce antibodies that may increase your ability to fight infection. Add proteins to your soups and casseroles, and choose snacks, such as cottage cheese, cheese snacks, and peanut or almond butter.
- Boost Your Health with Beverages
Drink water, green tea (good antioxidant), decaffeinated coffee and milk. Also, black tea is the source of xanthine alkaloids4 that are used to create theophylline used in bronchodilators. Black tea will help you to hydrate5.
- Eat Your Veggies
You’ve probably heard this for years, but it’s true: leafy greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and winter squash are good for you.
- Feast on Fresh fruits
Delicious fruits offer good COPD-friendly nutrition. Look for watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, apples, citrus, cherries, apricots and pears.
- Add Omega-3
Omega-3 is found, for example, in fatty, cold-water fish as well as walnuts and flaxseed.
COPD Guideline 4: Hydrate with Plenty of Fluids
Staying hydrated is important. If you are using supplemental oxygen, you may notice increased irritation in your nose and airways and your mucous membranes may tend to dry out. Fluids can help. They can also help prevent constipation.
Talk with your healthcare professionals or a recommended dietician to find out how much liquid you should drink daily. General guidelines suggest 8 to 12 cups of water or other caffeine-free liquids, or 64 to 96 ounces.6
In addition to water and decaffeinated coffees and teas, milk is safe for the COPD patient. Contrary to what you might think, milk will not increase mucus production in your throat, lungs or nasal passages. Milk is also an excellent source of protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamins A, D and B-12.
COPD Guideline 5: Consume Mineral-Rich Foods
Mineral-rich foods you should consider adding to your diet after talking with a medical professional include:
- Calcium: milk and other dairy products.
Calcium helps regulate your lung function and blood clotting. And since osteoporosis, a common problem for COPD patients, can make breathing more difficult, include calcium in your diet to strengthen your bones.
Suggested guidelines for COPD patients: 1000 mg of calcium daily for men and women under age 50 and 1200 mg for people 50 and older.7
- Magnesium: dark green vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and some seafood.
High-quality chocolate also provides moderate amounts of magnesium. Benefits of magnesium include blood clotting, protein production, and better muscle contraction. It also has an antihistamine effect, which may help regulate bronchial activity.
Suggested guidelines: 400 mg for men up to age 30, 310 mg for women up to age 30, and 410 mg and 320 mg for men and women, respectively, 31 years and older.8
- Phosphorus: poultry, meat, fish, eggs, milk, nuts and legumes.
Phosphorus helps repair and build tissue and bone, and it’s important for increasing energy. Low phosphorus levels are common in COPD patients—a side effect of some COPD medications—so discuss your levels with your doctor.
Suggested guidelines: 700 mg daily for adults.9
- Potassium: milk, yogurt, winter squash, cooked tomatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, bananas, grapefruit, prunes, carrots, raisins, spinach and dates.
Potassium is essential for proper muscle contraction, which is critical for heart and lungs. And if your doctor prescribes diuretics for water retention and edema, potassium is often lost along with the water.
Following your doctor’s recommended COPD nutritional guidelines may help relieve some of the symptoms of your disease, notably the shortness of breath associated with lung function, chest infections, coughing and mucus production. A healthy diet can also help you maintain ideal weight, increase energy levels, improve the quality of your life, and may even help extend your survival.
1 American Family Physician. Treatment of Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: the GOLD Guidelines. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/1115/p655.html. Accessed 188.8.131.52 Judi Biederman. Diet in the Management of COPD, Advance Healthcare Network. http://respiratory-care-sleep-medicine.advanceweb.com/Columns/COPD-Advantage/Diet-in-the-Management-of-COPD.aspx. Accessed 7.23.16.
3 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients?page=3. Accessed 7.23.16.
4 Deborah Leader. List of Super Foods To Include in a COPD Diet. Very Well. https://www.verywell.com/list-of-super-foods-to-include-in-a-copd-diet-914726, Accessed 7.23.16.
5 E J Gardner, C H S Ruxton and A R Leeds. Black tea – helpful or harmful? A review of the evidence. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n1/full/1602489a.html. Accessed 7.23.16.
6 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients. Accessed 7.23.16.
7 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients. Accessed 7.23.16.
8 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients?page=3. Accessed 7.23.16.
 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients?page=3. Accessed 7.23.16.