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


Magnesium is an important mineral that is involved in blood clotting, muscle contraction and protein production. It is the chemical "fuel" that makes muscles work. Also, magnesium works with calcium to regulate bronchial activity. It has an antihistamine-like effect. A low level of magnesium weakens the power of muscles. This is particularly true for the breathing muscles. For this reason, COPD patients should consume magnesium rich foods to meet the dietary recommendation. The average American consumes only three-fourths of the recommended amount of magnesium.

The recommended daily intake of magnesium for people between 19 and 30 years old is 400 mg for men and 310 mg for women. For those older than 31, the recommendations rise to 420 mg daily for men and 320 mg for women.

Magnesium is part of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. So dark green vegetables are natural rich sources of magnesium. Just one more important reason to "eat your vegetables!" Other sources of magnesium include whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, tofu and some seafood. Chocolate contains moderate amounts. Foods made from refined flours (like white bread) have 80 percent less magnesium than whole grain flours. Enrichment does not replace it.


Phosphorus plays a role in the structure and function of all living cells. It is an essential factor in the creation of energy. Phosphorus is also involved in the building and repairing of tissues. And it plays a role in the formation of bone. The recommended dietary intake of phosphorus for adults is 700 mg per day. Most Americans can meet their needs for phosphorous by eating meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products. Nuts and legumes such as chic peas, kidney beans and black beans are also good sources. Phosphorus shortage in healthy individuals in the United States is rare. The typical American diet is abundant in phosphorus. Although phosphorus deficiency is rare in healthy adults, COPD patients are at risk for phosphate depletion. Researchers have reported that as many as 20 to 50 percent of people with COPD have low phosphate levels. This deficiency may be due, in part, to medicine side effects. Low phosphorus levels have been linked to some of the medicines commonly used by people with COPD.

Medicines such as theophylline, B2 adrenergic bronchodilators, corticosteroids and some diuretics are reported to cause excess phosphorus release from the kidneys. Many commonly used antacids also contain aluminum or magnesium. These reduce phosphorus levels by preventing phosphorus from being absorbed in the intestinal tract. General malnutrition also contributes to low phosphorous levels. Ask your health care provider to check your phosphorous level. This is particularly important if you are taking the listed medicines linked to phosphorus deficiencies. Phosphorus is not a part of the routine blood work frequently ordered by physicians. Low serum phosphorus levels may be under-diagnosed and under-treated.

Enough phosphorous is needed to maintain optimal pulmonary function. Severely low phosphorus levels can have fatal results, including respiratory failure. If serum phosphorus levels are low, eating and drinking more phosphorus-rich foods and beverages may improve phosphorus levels. Phosphorous-rich foods include milk, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes. If you have a low phosphorus level, you can include more phosphorus-rich foods in your diet, or drink four cups of milk per day. If you have a severe phosphorus deficiency, your health care provider can prescribe an oral phosphate supplement.


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