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7 Simple Food Swaps When Living with COPD

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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 pretzels for peppers and hummus

Simple (or “refined”) carbs are stripped of the fiber-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. Pretzels, candy, cake, chips, white bread, and pasta are all simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates do contain fiber. Fiber 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 fiber each day.

Looking to get more fiber? Vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, nuts, and fruit are all good sources. Dip peppers in hummus as a simple alternative to pretzels to boost your fiber intake.

Swap soda for water

The caffeine in soda can interfere with some COPD medications and raise your blood pressure. The carbonation in soda can make you feel bloated, so breathing can sometimes feel uncomfortable.

Soda is also empty of nutrients — a typical can of soda has the equivalent of 7 to 10 teaspoons of sugar! Regularly drinking soda has been linked to increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.

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 fiber-rich vegetables (double win!).

However, please be aware that many canned soups are high in sodium. 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. Either cook your own soup at home or buy a prepared soup with 140 mg or less of sodium per serving.

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 yogurt with fruit

Although most ice creams are high in calories and sugar, this doesn’t mean you have to skip dessert.

Plain, low-fat yogurt contains almost half the sugar and calories as the same size serving of ice cream, so it makes for the perfect substitute! Top yours with fresh fruit for sweetness.

Yogurt 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. Yogurt just leaves a creamy coating in your mouth and throat that may feel like mucus.

The takeaway

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.

For more information on how to manage COPD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.