COPD and Your Diet

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diet demands may be greater for you than for other people. Your energy may be limited, making it harder to prepare and eat meals. Or you may take medications or experience depression that can reduce your appetite.

But eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for you. Learn why -- and what you can do to stay healthier.

3 Reasons Why a Healthy COPD Diet Is Important

Did you know that the respiratory muscles in people with COPD burn 10 times the calories of other people? That's because it takes so much energy just to breathe.

If you have COPD, a healthy diet can help manage your condition and help you feel better. Here are three reasons why:

1. If you don't get enough calories and are underweight:

  • You may be more likely to get an infection.
  • You may become weak and tired more often.
  • The muscles that control your breathing may weaken.

2. If you're overweight:

  • Your heart and lungs must work harder.
  • Your body may demand more oxygen.
  • Your breathing may become more difficult, especially if you carry weight around your middle.

3. When you have COPD, a diet full of healthy foods:

  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Provides your body the energy it needs
  • Supplies enough calories, keeping breathing and other muscles strong
  • Helps your body fight infections by strengthening your immune system

When you have COPD, you may need to make some diet changes. But always do this under the guidance of a registered dietitian or other healthcare provider who can prepare a nutrition action plan tailored to your exact needs.

A Diet for COPD

Here are a few COPD and diet guidelines to get you started:

Eat a variety of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and proteins. High-fiber foods are especially important. They help with digestion, control blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol levels, and can help control weight.

Drink plenty of water. Not only does it help prevent gas when you eat high-fiber foods, but water helps thin mucus so you can cough it up easier. Most people need six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Check with your healthcare provider, though, because some health conditions require that you limit your fluids.


Choose non-caffeinated and non-carbonated beverages. Limit alcohol, which can interact with medications, can slow breathing, and may make it harder to cough up mucus.

Ask about certain foods. Certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may help reduce inflammation and improve lung function. Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider if increasing your intake is appropriate for you.

Avoid salt. Salt (sodium) makes your body retain water, which increases swelling. This makes breathing more difficult. To reduce your salt intake, try to:

  • Read food labels and choose foods with fewer than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Use no-salt spices.
  • Avoid adding salt while cooking.

Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating. Everyone knows how uncomfortable that full-stomach feeling is. And it may make breathing more difficult, too. To minimize gas or bloating, avoid foods and drinks such as:

  • Beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Fried, spicy, or greasy foods

Avoid empty foods. Junk foods such as chips and candy don't provide any nutritional value.

If you need to gain weight, choose more high-protein, high-calorie foods such as cheese, peanut butter, eggs, milk, and yogurt. Remember to ask about nutritional supplements to increase the number of calories and nutrients you get each day.

Make Eating Easier With COPD

If you have COPD, mealtime can feel like a chore. Try these tips for easier eating:

Conserve energy:

  • Choose foods that are easier to prepare. It's more important to eat than to prepare fancy foods.
  • Get help with meal preparation -- ask your family or friends for help, or check with local government agencies or church organizations about meal deliveries. Many are low-cost; some are free.
  • Freeze extra portions and take them out when you're extra tired.
  • Eat your main meals earlier in the day when you have extra energy.

Breathe easier at mealtime:

  • Eat sitting up, not lying down. This prevents extra pressure on your lungs.
  • If you use continuous oxygen, wear your cannula while eating to provide the energy your body needs for eating and digestion.
  • Take small bites, chew slowly, and breathe deeply while chewing.
  • Choose easy-to-chew foods.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
  • Drink fluids at the end of the meal so you don't fill up too fast.

Stimulate your appetite:

  • Keep healthy foods visible and within easy reach.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods, especially your favorites.
  • Use colorful place settings or play background music while eating.
  • Eat with other people as often as you can.
  • Walk or do light exercises.


How to Monitor Your Weight With COPD

To help monitor and maintain a healthy weight if you have COPD:

  • Weigh yourself once or twice a week, or as often as your doctor suggests. If you take water pills, called diuretics, you should weigh yourself every day.
  • Contact your doctor if you gain or lose 2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week.
  • Make changes in your diet under the guidance of a health care provider.
  • If you need to lose weight, ask about special exercises that may also strengthen your chest muscles.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on November 24, 2019


SOURCES: Cleveland Clinic: "Nutritional Guidelines for People With COPD." American Association for Respiratory Care: "Eating Right: Tips for the COPD Patient." National Institutes of Health: "A Meaty, Salty, Starchy Diet May Impact Chronic Lung Disease." Medscape: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Improve Lung Function in COPD." University of Alabama: "Nutrition and COPD."

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