Diet Tips and Nutrition Guide for People with COPD

Living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be challenging, and it is important to engage in good eating habits, balancing your nutrition, and maintaining a healthy weight. If you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, your doctor has probably already told you all this information but not necessarily given you tips or advice on how to get there.

Dealing with COPD and managing your diet and weight doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re overweight, your doctor may have recommended you lose weight so you can breathe easier. With that in mind, it’s also crucial not to lose too much weight. Being underweight is not healthy for COPD patients because it results in lower energy levels and poorer prognosis.

With that in mind, we’ve put together some basic tips to follow to make managing your diet and living with COPD easier to do.

Tip #1: Balance the Variety

A healthy, balanced diet includes variety. We all have our favorite foods, but too much of any good thing is just too much. Include the following in your daily diet:

1. Fresh fruits and vegetables: Eating fresh fruits and vegetables increases your fiber intake, which helps your digestive system. It also maximizes your vitamin and mineral intake, which contributes to strengthening your immune system. If you are taking a diuretic, eat potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocados, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, and beets.

2. When it comes to protein, think low-fat. Don’t eat anything more than 10% fat. If you don’t like fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel), take fish oil supplements. Fish oil and protein will help your immune system produce antibodies.

3. Eat more complex carbohydrates. Foods high in fiber include oats, bran, and whole grain bread.

Tip #2: Stay Away from these Foods

Avoid foods that are low in nutritional value, high in salt, dairy products, caffeine and fried foods.

1. Salt - Too much salt in your diet makes the body retain water, which may affect your ability to breathe. Read and understand the nutrition labels of ready-made or packaged foods. If it has more than 300 mg (snack) – 600 mg (meal) of sodium per serving, leave it on the shelf.

2. Dairy Products - For many, dairy products cause phlegm to become thicker. They also cause bloating and create gas.

3. Caffeine - Some of us just can’t seem to start our day off without that morning cuppa. Consult with your physician regarding possible interference of caffeine with your medication. Remember, it’s not just coffee that’s caffeinated. A lot of energy drinks contain caffeine, as do teas, hot chocolate, chocolate, and chai.

4. Fried Foods - Fried foods can cause gas and indigestion – plus, it’s probably high in fat your body doesn’t need. Spicy foods can cause severe discomfort and may affect your breathing. If you suffer from COPD, it’s best to stay away.

Tip #3: Drink Up!

If you have heart problems, your doctor may have told you to limit your fluid intake. However, drinking water (6-8 glasses) can help manage mucus levels. Ask your doctor to recommend the proper amount of water for you to drink. If you want to drink other beverages, ask your health care professional which drinks are “OK” and which ones are not, especially as they pertain to the medication you are taking.

Tip #4: Weighing In: Your weight matters!

Your weight plays a vital role in managing your COPD. You might be underweight if you have emphysema and overweight if you have bronchitis. Every person is different, but the importance of maintaining a healthy weight is crucial to anyone living with COPD.

If you need to gain weight, make sure you stick with healthy snacks like avocados, cheese, nuts, and granola. You may have to consume up to ten times more calories than a non-COPD person just to keep your energy levels up and to breathe properly. Stay away from junk foods, as they are usually nutrition-empty foods. On the other hand, if you are overweight, you may notice that it’s harder to breathe as you gain weight. Excess body weight uses up more oxygen. If the extra weight on your body is using up valuable oxygen, your lungs are getting a lot less oxygen than it should. Stick to healthy, low-calorie snacks such as vegetable (carrots, celery, jicama) sticks and antioxidant-rich berries. Make every calorie count!

Tip #5: Preparation is Crucial

Living with COPD is stressful, so it’s important to minimize stress levels in all other areas of life. Make mealtimes easier to manage by sticking to a healthy diet program and preparing your food ahead of time.

1. Make breakfast the main meal. Eating early boosts energy levels all day long.

2. Eat less, more often. Split up your meals into 4-6 smaller meals per day instead of eating three large meals once a day for a total of three meals per day.

3. Quick and easy is good. Prepare your food ahead of time, so mealtimes are more of a relaxation exercise rather than an exercise in frustration over what to cook and eat. You can prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them.

4. Sit up straight! Sitting up straight maximizes the amount of air your lungs receive.

Reviewed: 12/29/17

About Scott Ridl: Scott joined American Medical Sales and Rentals in 2008 as a Web Manager and Content Writer. He is a writer and designer. He is extensively trained on oxygen therapy products from leading manufacturers such as Inogen, Respironics, Chart, Invacare, ResMed and more. Scott works closely with respiratory therapists and oxygen specialists to educate the community about oxygen therapy products, COPD, asthma and lung diseases. He writes weekly columns and is passionate about educating the community on oxygen therapy and respiratory issues.

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