Can Healthy Eating Help COPD?
We know that healthy eating is a cornerstone to overall better health. This is true whether you have a chronic illness like COPD or you are perfectly healthy. So, the answer to the question in the title of this post is yes: healthy eating can help people with COPD to feel and be healthier.
But are there specific disease-related benefits to changing how and what you eat? That's what we'll look at in this post.
Overall Health Benefits of Eating Healthy
When you make healthy food choices, it can help you maintain your weight within a healthy range. When you are overweight, it can sap your energy and make it harder to breathe. Both your heart and your lungs have to work harder. Excess weight can also prevent your lungs from expanding fully and place stress on your diaphragm that interferes with breathing.
On the other hand, being underweight is also not healthy, especially if it is related to inadequate nutrition. When your body is not well-nourished, you will lack the energy to meet the demands of your daily activities, including breathing.
So, you can see that eating healthy in order to maintain your weight can help you feel and breathe better.
Healthy eating also has other benefits1:
General Healthy Eating Tips
1. Eat less salt. Sure, it's important to salt your food less at the table. But did you know that most Americans get up to 77% of the sodium (salt) in their diet from processed foods? That's right, so if you can make meals from scratch and avoid those boxed, frozen and canned meals, you'll reduce your salt intake.
2. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. These foods offer fiber and a rich assortment of vitamins and minerals that it's hard to get from other types of food. Experts recommend 7 to 10 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. And, if you can, pick those with as many different colors as possible.
3. Eat healthy fats. For too long, we believed it was necessary to avoid all fats. We know now that this is not the right approach. Our bodies need fats to function well. The key is to add small amounts of healthy fats to your diet, while avoiding fats that simply offer empty calories. Healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, and certain nuts. But do limit the amount you eat even of healthy fats.
4. Limit your portions. Portion size is one of the biggest downfalls in the U.S. Most of us eat far too much at meals! This may not be as much of a problem for people with COPD, because they tend to get out of breath while eating. Still, if you struggle with eating too much, try eating off a smaller plate (it works!). Eat out less, because most restaurants serve far too large portions. Read food labels to understand what a portion size is for that food.
5. Change how you prepare your food. Instead of frying in fat, try grilling, steaming or baking your food. Flavor your foods with herbs and spices, rather than salt.
6. Make healthy food substitutions. Use low fat sour cream, mayo, sauces, salad dressings and cheeses in lieu of the full fat variety. Use whole grain breads, pasta and cereal instead of white flour-based versions. Snack on carrot sticks or apple quarters, rather than cookies and candy. Have a salad as a side dish, rather than french fries.
7. Practice regular eating habits. Try eating meals at the same time each day. Eat before you get too hungry to avoid overeating or making poor choices. Stop eating when you feel full. Try not to eat close to bedtime.
8. Drink your water! Our bodies need water to function well. Staying hydrated will also help the mucus in your airways not to get too thick and sticky. Most experts recommend drinking 6 to 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day. However, if you also have heart issues, you should check with your doctor about how much fluid you should have.
Healthy Eating Tips Specific to COPD
You've heard the old adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away...", right? Well, research recently published in the European Respiratory Journal actually found that eating apples and bananas could benefit people who have COPD. Here are some of the details of the study4:
- 680 participants from the UK, Germany and Norway
- Examined the relationship between lung function decline and intake of dietary antioxidants over a 10-year period
- Part of a larger study that looked at environmental risk factors and respiratory health
The results of this study suggest that a higher intake of apples, bananas, and tomatoes is linked to a slower decline in lung function. Herbal tea and vitamin C also appeared to have beneficial effects on lung function. This was particularly true in ex-smokers. In fact, the researchers suggest that: "Dietary antioxidants possibly contribute to restoration, following damage caused by exposure to smoking, among adults who have quit4."
So, it seems that adding more apples, bananas, tomatoes and herbal tea to your daily intake may help you breathe better. Now, that's exciting!
Have you taken our COPD In America Survey yet?