Eating well supports your overall health whether or not you live with a chronic disease. The foods you choose may be even more important if you’re living with COPD.
Choosing the right foods can make a big difference in how you feel and may even help you to breathe better with COPD.
Why is diet important if you have COPD?
In simple terms, your body uses the food you eat as energy for all of the activities you do. You even need energy to breathe.
For people living with COPD, the pulmonary muscles may require up to 10 times as many calories to function as the lungs of people without COPD. This can lead to weight loss. In fact, up to 1 in 4 people with advanced COPD experience moderate to severe weight loss. This can often result in being underweight, which can make you feel weak and tired.
On the flipside, being overweight can also cause problems with COPD. Extra weight can make it harder to breathe. Your lungs may have to work harder and you might need more oxygen to function.
Getting the right nutrients can also make it easier for you to breathe with COPD. A healthy diet helps fuel your body and keeps your weight in check.
Your healthcare provider can help you to come up with a diet plan that works for you. You may also want to consider working with a registered dietician (RD) to find tricks that help you stick to your diet.
Simple food swaps
From my experience of living with COPD, I’ve found that the following food swaps can help ensure you get the nutrients you need:
Swap toast for eggs
Many COPD experts recommend eating a low-carb diet.
Want to cut back on carbs? Talk to your doctor. You’ll likely need to eat more meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and non-starchy vegetables. You’ll also need to eat fewer grains, sweets, pastas, and starchy vegetables. An easy first swap is to have scrambled eggs instead of white toast at breakfast.
Swap crisps for peppers and hummus
Simple (or “refined”) carbs are stripped of the fibre-filled outside grain, which causes your glucose levels to rise rapidly. Your body digests simple carbohydrates quickly and can cause you to feel a rush of energy initially, but can leave you feeling tired soon after. Cake, crisps, white bread, and pasta are all simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates do contain fibre. Fibre helps food move through your digestive tract, controls blood glucose levels, and may reduce cholesterol. It helps you to feel full so you don’t feel like eating as much. You’ll want to aim for 20 to 30 grams of fibre each day.
Looking to get more fibre? Vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, nuts, and fruit are all good sources. Dip peppers in hummus as a simple alternative to crisps to boost your fibre intake.
Swap fizzy drinks for water
The caffeine in some fizzy drinks can interfere with some COPD medications and raise your blood pressure. The carbonation in fizzy drinks can make you feel bloated, so breathing can sometimes feel uncomfortable.
Fizzy drinks (typically termed as ‘full fat’) are also usually empty of nutrients — half a litre of cola contributes about 11% of an adult’s daily calorie intake! Regularly drinking these types of fizzy drinks has been linked to increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Staying hydrated by drinking enough water can also make mucus thinner and easier to get rid of when you have COPD. Try to drink six to eight cups every day, but make sure you talk to your doctor first. Some people with heart problems may need to limit the fluids they drink.
Swap fried chicken for grilled chicken
Fried foods can also make you feel bloated. And feeling bloated can make breathing harder.
Try to avoid fried foods like fried chicken, chicken strips, fries, onion rings, and donuts. Instead try opting for lighter, non-fried foods like grilled chicken, roasted turkey, or hard-boiled eggs.
Swap pasta for homemade soup
Pasta probably won’t be on the menu if you’re trying to eat a low-carb diet. As an alternative, soups can be a filling main course.
Soft foods like soups are also easy to chew and swallow. This can make eating easier if you have COPD, and they also often contain lots of fibre-rich vegetables (double win!).
However, please be aware that many canned soups are high in salt. This can have negative effects because excess salt can cause you to retain more fluid. It can also increase your blood pressure and lead to shortness of breath. Adults in the UK are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g of sodium), so make sure to check the packaging for salt content if you are buying ready-made soups.
Swap salt for herbs
It’s a good idea to avoid adding salt to foods when you’re cooking. Excess sodium can make you retain water and make it harder to breathe.
To season your food, try herbs and spices that don’t contain salt. Make sure to talk to your doctor before trying salt substitutes. They can sometimes contain ingredients that are just as bad for you as salt.
Swap ice cream for yoghurt with fruit
Although most ice creams are high in calories and sugar, this doesn’t mean you have to skip dessert.
Opting for low-fat or fat-free yoghurt is the perfect substitute for ice cream. However, always be sure to look at the label to check they’re not high in added sugar. If you want extra sweetness, try topping yours with fresh fruit.
Yoghurt is also a good source of calcium and it’s important to get enough calcium if you have COPD. Taking certain medications can often speed up calcium loss, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Keep in mind that dairy does not create extra mucus in the throat, nose, and lungs. Yoghurt just leaves a creamy coating in your mouth and throat that may feel like mucus.
What you eat and drink can affect your breathing if you have COPD. If you’re looking to make changes to help reduce your symptoms, talk to your doctor or dietician about what a healthy and balanced diet should look like for you.
UK/MED/19/0227 September 2019