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COPD and diet

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for someone with COPD.

Being overweight can make someone more out of breath, so losing weight may be recommended.

However, some people with COPD lose weight, which they don’t need to lose, and which can also make symptoms worse. They may need help to gain weight again and maintain a healthy weight, such as dietary advice about eating enough protein and calories.

Three reasons why a healthy diet with COPD is important

Did you know 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. Here are three reasons why:

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.

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.

When you have COPD, a diet of healthy foods:

  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • Provides your body with the energy it needs
  • Supplies enough calories to keep breathing and other muscles strong
  • Helps your body fight infections by supporting your immune system

When you have COPD, you may need to make some dietary changes. However, always do this under the guidance of a registered dietician or another member of your healthcare team such as a respiratory specialist practice nurse, who can prepare an action plan tailored to your needs.

A diet for COPD

Here are a few diet guidelines to get you started:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, dairy products and proteins. High-fibre foods are especially important. They help with digestion, help control blood-sugar levels, help reduce cholesterol and can help control weight.
  • Drink plenty of water. Not only does this help prevent wind when you eat high-fibre foods, but water helps thin mucus, so you can cough it up more easily. Most people need six to eight glasses of water a day. Check with your doctor, though, because some health conditions require that you limit your fluids. Choose non-caffeinated and non-carbonated drinks. Limit alcohol, which has little nutritional value and may interact with your medications, slow your breathing and make it harder to cough up mucus.
  • Ask about supplements. Certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may, but have not been proven to, help reduce inflammation and improve lung function. Ask your doctor if this is appropriate for you.
  • Reduce salt. Salt makes your body retain water, which increases swelling. This makes breathing more difficult. To reduce your salt intake, try to read food labels and follow the UK recommendation of consuming no more than 6 grams of salt a day. Try using no-salt spices and avoid adding salt while cooking.
  • Avoid foods that cause wind or bloating. Everyone knows how uncomfortable that full-stomach feeling is. And it makes breathing more difficult, too. If wind or bloating is a problem, consider reducing consumption of foods and drinks such as:
    • Beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower
    • Fizzy drinks
    • Fried, spicy or greasy foods
  • Avoid empty foods. Junk foods such as crisps and sweets don't provide any nutritional value.
  • If you need to gain weight, choose high-protein, high-calorie foods such as cheese, peanut butter, eggs, milk and yoghurt.
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