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COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


In the previous sections, you found some practical and useful tips to help you deal with many of the tough nutritional issues you may face daily. As important is an understanding of why some of the other essential dietary elements are needed to maintain health. The list of nutrients needed by our bodies is long. However, we will discuss only a few that are especially important in lung disease.

Also, some medicines for lung disease react with some nutrients. You should consult with your doctor or dietitian about possible interactions with the specific medicines you are taking.


Protein is important because it plays an essential role in protecting the body. It produces antibodies to fight infection. Loss of protein and the general difficulty to maintain a good nutritional status may severely reduce the lungs'' ability to defend against infection, in COPD patients.

The primary sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs, poultry, legumes and dairy products. If you are not getting enough protein in your diet use the following guidelines. These guidelines are also helpful if you have an infection and need extra protein:

  • Add skim milk powder to hot milk, cereal, eggs, soups, casseroles, gravies and ground meat dishes. This will add extra protein and calcium to your diet.
  • Add chopped high protein poultry, meats, cheese or legumes to soups and casseroles and vegetables. Nuts also can be added.
  • Blend finely chopped hard-boiled egg or egg substitute into a sauce, gravy or soup.
  • Include high protein snacks such as pasteurized eggnog, instant breakfast and puddings in your diet. Commercially prepared supplements may be needed in some cases.
  • Have peanut butter, bean dips, nuts, cottage cheese or other cheese with snacks to add additional protein and calories.
  • Try using double strength milk (add 1 cup powdered milk to 1 quart whole milk).


Drinking enough fluids is essential for the thinning and clearance of your pulmonary secretions.

Also, supplemental oxygen therapy may dry your mucus membranes and cause irritation. Fluids keep you hydrated. The recommended fluid intake for COPD patients is 8 to 12 cups of caffeine-free liquids per day. (A total of 64 to 86 ounces). Water is essential to the body. It helps prevent constipation. Drinking plain water may be your best source of fluid. Fruit juices, decaffeinated coffee and tea are also good sources. Milk is a good source of fluid. It has the added benefit of providing many healthy nutrients. Ask your primary care provider about the amount of fluid you should drink each day.

A Fluid-Restricted Diet

If your health care provider tells you that you are "retaining fluid," ask your dietitian to help you plan what to eat and drink. A dietitian can also help if you are told to follow a fluid restricted diet. Fluid retention may be caused by many factors. These may include medicine side effects or disease. Fluid retention can also be caused by over-eating salt. And, rarely, it is caused by excess drinking of fluids.

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