Did you know that COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the third leading cause of death in the United States? This disease kills more than 120,000 Americans each year – that’s 1 death every 4 minutes – and causes serious, long-term disability. The number of people with COPD is increasing. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t yet know it. These statistics come from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute which is sponsoring a campaign to increase awareness of COPD during November, designated as National COPD Awareness Month.
Why does nutrition matter for people with lung disease?
Good nutrition will make you feel better and help in managing COPD. Food is your body’s fuel and provides the energy your body needs to perform all of your daily functions, including breathing.
The muscles used for breathing require up to ten times more energy in people with COPD than those without COPD.
The types and amounts of foods you eat affect your metabolism, including how much carbon dioxide is produced by digestion. Too much carbon dioxide can make you feel weak and fatigued .
Good nutrition helps the body fight infection, which can be common in COPD.
Maintaining a healthy weight is especially important for people with COPD. Being overweight can make breathing more difficult and may demand more oxygen. Being underweight can make you feel weak and tired, and you may be more susceptible to infections, including pneumonia. People with COPD who maintain a healthy weight and have a good diet live longer and enjoy improved quality of life compared to those who do not.
A healthy diet for persons with COPD is not all that different from how everyone should be eating, but there are some things that should be limited, or avoided, as well as some special recommendations.
What to eat and drink daily:
2-3 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C. Research shows a positive relationship between an increase in vitamin C and pulmonary function
2-3 servings of low-fat dairy. Also consider taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement to help improve lung strength and function
25-35 grams of fiber. Good sources are whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables
Lean proteins, like eggs, fish , poultry, and loin cuts of beef and pork
6-8 glasses of water. Fluids will help keep airways moist, prevent dehydration, and can help thin mucous
Eating 5 or 6 smaller meals can help minimize abdominal pressure and shortness of breath
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What to limit or avoid in your diet:
Limit sodium. Consuming too much salt can cause the body to retain water, making breathing more difficult
Limit foods and beverages high in sugar. Sugars cause production of excess carbon monoxide in the bloodstream, which can increase fatigue
Avoid carbonated beverages. Carbonation, chewing gum, and use of straws increase the likelihood of swallowing air, which can increase bloating and gassiness
Limit caffeine. Caffeine can interfere with some medications and cause restlessness that expends energy
Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating. A full abdomen can make breathing uncomfortable
Very hot or very cold foods may stimulate coughing. If so, choose room temperature foods and beverages
Limit alcohol due to possible medication interactions
Are you at risk for COPD? Risk factors include:
Shortness of breath, chronic cough, or difficulty performing simple daily tasks
Over age 40 and currently smoke or used to smoke
Have worked or lived around chemicals or fumes
Have certain genetic conditions
If you are at risk for COPD, you should:
Talk with your health care provider about shortness of breath, chronic cough, or decline in activity level
Get a simple breathing test
Avoid pollutants and lung irritants
If you need help managing your COPD, talk to your health care provider about enrolling in a pulmonary rehab program. For more information, call Lake Regional Health System’s Cardiopulmonary Department at 573-302-2253.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.