Eating well when you have COPD
Take steps to eat and breathe more comfortably.
When you have COPD, what you eat may affect your breathing. And eating can be challenging when you have trouble breathing.
The following tips may help you eat and breathe more comfortably. But work with your doctor and health care team to identify the right meal plan for you.
How what you eat may affect your breathing
When your body processes carbohydrates, it creates more carbon dioxide — the waste product that you breathe out — than it does when processing fats and proteins. So, although more research on this is needed, it may help some people with COPD to eat fewer carbohydrates and more fats and proteins.
In general, opt for healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — such as olive oil, corn oil and canola oil — over trans fats and saturated fats, like butter, lard and fried foods. Lean meats and low-fat dairy products are usually healthier protein choices. And when it comes to carbohydrates, go for complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains rather than simple carbs like sugar, candy and regular soft drinks.
Limiting the amount of salt in your diet may help you breathe easier, too. Salt and salty foods can cause your body to retain fluids. That extra fluid can make breathing harder.
The relationship between your weight and your breathing
If you're overweight, the extra body weight demands more oxygen and can interfere with your breathing. On the other hand, some people who have COPD actually lose too much body weight because the work of breathing burns up extra calories, reduces appetite or both.
If you're overweight, losing weight can improve your breathing. If you're underweight, your doctor may suggest nutritional supplements. Talk with your doctor about what meal plan or other steps may be best for your situation. A healthy diet can help you maintain your strength.
Talk to your doctor about physical activity, too. Exercise can help you increase your endurance and improve your appetite and the effects of nutritional therapy.
Managing shortness of breath and fatigue when cooking and eating
When you have COPD, it may also help to:
March 01, 2019
- Choose easy-to-prepare foods, such as microwaveable meals, or get help when cooking.
- Rest just before eating — prepare food in advance so that you have time to rest before your meal.
- Use oxygen when preparing and eating meals if you also use it during exercise or activity. But avoid using it around the open flames of gas stoves.
- Eat four to six small meals a day instead of three large meals.
- Include nutrient-dense foods such as liquid nutritional supplements.
- Drink most fluids between meals to avoid feeling full from fluids during meals.
- Drink eight or more glasses of fluid daily to help keep mucus thin and easy to cough up (unless your doctor has advised you not to drink extra fluid).
- Position your body in a way that uses the least energy and is the most comfortable when you eat.
- Eat your largest meal in the morning if you tire easily during the day.
- Eat slowly, take small bites and chew food well.
- Eat in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.
See more In-depth
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Dietary guidelines for people who have lung conditions. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2008.
- Nutrition and COPD. American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/living-with-copd/nutrition.html. Accessed Jan. 30, 2019.
- Bellini LM. Nutritional support in advanced lung disease. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 30, 2019.
- COPD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd. Accessed Jan. 31, 2019.
- Olson EJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 8, 2019.