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COPD: Keeping Your Diet Healthy

Introduction

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may have little appetite or feel too tired to prepare and eat meals. But eating regularly and eating healthy foods is important because food:

  • Provides your body with the energy it needs to function, such as for breathing and digestion.
  • Provides you with the energy you need for daily activities.
  • Helps strengthen your body's natural defense system (immune system), making it easier to avoid infections.

You can take simple steps to be sure you eat healthy foods on a regular basis. But because people with COPD often have other health problems that may restrict the foods they can eat, always talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making changes in your diet.

 

COPD may make eating more difficult, especially if you:

  • Are depressed, which often results in less interest in food.
  • Have little energy, which can make it difficult to prepare and eat meals.
  • Are taking medicine that reduce appetite.
  • Find that shortness of breath makes it difficult to eat.
  • Find that eating makes it harder to breathe. A full stomach may push up and interfere with the large sheet of muscle in the chest (diaphragm), making breathing more difficult. Holding your breath while chewing or swallowing may be uncomfortable if you are already short of breath.

Test Your Knowledge

COPD does not affect your eating habits.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    COPD affects your eating habits in many ways. You may not have the energy to prepare or cook meals, or you may have no interest in food, take medicines that reduce your appetite, or find it difficult to eat because you are short of breath.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    COPD affects your eating habits in many ways. You may not have the energy to prepare or cook meals, or you may have no interest in food, take medicines that reduce your appetite, or find it difficult to eat because you are short of breath.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

If you have COPD, eating regularly and eating healthy foods is important because:

  • Food provides you with energy, including the energy you need to breathe. You need more energy to breathe than a healthy person.
  • You need nutrients for a healthy immune system. If you have COPD, you are at increased risk for lung infections. A healthy diet and strong immune system can help you prevent and fight infections.
  • If you are overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder, which makes breathing more difficult. Eating healthy foods can help you lose weight.
  • If you do not eat enough or are underweight, you generally feel tired, which in turn makes it more difficult to do everyday activities. Being underweight may also increase your chance of getting infections. Eating healthy foods can help you gain or keep your weight.

Test Your Knowledge

Eating regularly and eating healthy foods can help prevent lung infections in people who have COPD.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Eating healthy foods regularly keeps your immune system strong. A healthy immune system makes it easier to avoid and fight infections.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Eating healthy foods regularly keeps your immune system strong. A healthy immune system makes it easier to avoid and fight infections.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

People with COPD often have trouble preparing foods and eating. The following tips can make eating easier and help you get necessary nutrition. But if you have other health problems that may restrict the foods you can eat, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making changes in your diet.

Make eating easier

  • Choose foods that are easy to prepare.
  • Eat in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Eat with friends and family.
  • If you eat a main meal, try to eat it early. This way, you will have energy throughout more of the day.
  • Try to include a favorite food in your meals.

Avoid shortness of breath while eating

  • Stop smoking. It is never too late to quit smoking. No matter how long you have had COPD or how serious it is, quitting smoking will help slow the disease and improve your quality of life.
  • Use medicines that make breathing easier and/or clear your airways about 1 hour before eating.
  • Rest before eating if eating makes you short of breath or tired.
  • Eat while sitting up. This helps remove pressure on your lungs.
  • If you use oxygen, use it while eating. Eating and digestion require energy, which causes your body to use more oxygen.
  • Eat six small meals each day instead of three large ones so that your stomach is never extremely full. A full stomach can interfere with breathing by pushing on the diaphragm.
  • Drink your beverage at the end of the meal. Drinking before or during the meal can fill you up more quickly.
  • Avoid or eat only small amounts of gas-forming foods (they bloat the abdomen and make breathing difficult). These include onions, cauliflower, broccoli, melons, peas, corn, cucumbers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, raw apples, and beans (except green beans). Fried and greasy foods can also cause gas or bloating.
  • Eat and chew slowly so you are less likely to become short of breath. Try putting your spoon or fork down between bites to slow your eating speed.
  • If you have a hard time breathing in the morning, do not skip breakfast. Have a liquid nutritional drink (such as Ensure) instead.

Eat healthy foods

  • Eat a varied diet. Eat fruits and vegetables, dairy products, cereal and grains, and meats.
  • Avoid foods that are difficult to chew.
  • Use less salt. Too much salt can cause you to retain fluids, which may interfere with your breathing.
    • Use herbs or no-salt spices to flavor your foods.
    • Don't add salt to foods while cooking.
    • Buy packaged foods low in salt.
  • Don't waste energy consuming foods with little nutritional value, such as potato chips, candy bars, and soft drinks.

Test Your Knowledge

If you have COPD, what you eat is not as important as how much you eat.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    If you have COPD, you need to eat enough food and make good food choices. Some foods may make it more difficult to breathe because they produce gas and bloat the abdomen. Other foods, such as candy bars or soft drinks, can fill you up without providing good nutrition.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    If you have COPD, you need to eat enough food and make good food choices. Some foods may make it more difficult to breathe because they produce gas and bloat the abdomen. Other foods, such as candy bars or soft drinks, can fill you up without providing good nutrition.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

If you have COPD and are worried about your weight, see your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you plan a healthful diet.

If you are eating regularly and are losing weight, see your doctor.

For more information about healthy eating and nutrition, see the topics:

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised February 19, 2013

Last Revised: February 19, 2013

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