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Updated August 28, 2022
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease where your airways become inflamed from long-term exposure to harmful particles or gases.
This inflammation limits airflow and makes breathing difficult.
COPD also decreases appetite and increases the number of calories you need, making it difficult to get enough nutrition.
This article explains what to eat and avoid with COPD and provides a 3-day sample COPD diet menu.
What is COPD?
COPD is a disease of the lungs that causes breathing problems, usually from long-term exposure to harmful particles or gases like tobacco smoke and other pollutants (1).
Long-term exposure to harmful particles and gases causes inflammation and narrows your airways, reducing your lung’s ability to work efficiently.
As a result, COPD causes symptoms such as (1):
- difficulty breathing
- persistent cough
- shortness of breath with exercise
- chest tightness
You may also experience unintended weight loss due to a decreased appetite and because your lungs work harder to supply oxygen, which burns more calories (2).
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) can worsen these symptoms.
Tobacco smoking is the most common risk factor for COPD worldwide. However, a significant number of people with COPD have never smoked (3).
- increasing age
- chronic asthma
- second-hand smoke
- crop and animal farming
- dust exposure (coal mining)
- outdoor air pollution
- chemical exposure (plastic production)
Certain variants of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can also lead to lung damage and COPD.
Additionally, COPD has a genetic component where some people are more likely to develop the disease than others due to exposure to harmful particles or gases (1).
This genetic component is why some people are able to smoke their entire lives without developing COPD or other lung problems.
Although there is currently no cure for COPD, you may be able to slow its progression and better control your symptoms by making changes to your diet.
SUMMARY: COPD is a common lung disease that makes breathing difficult, resulting in various symptoms. It’s usually caused by tobacco smoke but may develop because of other reasons.
The nutrition recommendations for COPD are intended to prevent unintended weight loss, reduce muscle loss, and improve lung function (5).
Foods to avoid
COPD and other lung diseases like cystic fibrosis usually increase the number of calories you need to maintain your body weight.
However, to ensure you’re getting enough of the nutrients you need, avoid consuming foods and drinks that are high in calories but provide little nutritional value.
Foods and drinks to avoid with COPD include:
- Fried foods: churros, french fries, corn dogs, egg rolls, fried chicken, onion rings, mozzarella sticks
- Sweets and desserts: candy, chocolate, donuts, cookies, cakes, pies, dairy desserts
- Processed meats: sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, bacon, beef jerky, smoked meats, canned meat
- Sugary drinks: regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, coffee and tea beverages with added sugars
- Alcohol: beer, whiskey, wine, vodka, and other cocktails
If you have GERD, avoid foods that trigger your symptoms.
- spicy foods
- citrus fruits
- acidic foods like tomato juice and chocolate
Foods to eat
Consuming enough calories to maintain your weight can be difficult with COPD, especially if you lack an appetite.
Therefore, make sure the foods you consume contain plenty of protein, healthy fats, and foods rich in vitamins and minerals.
Good options include:
- Fruits: avocados, apples, bananas, berries, grapes, melons, oranges, peaches, plums, etc.
- Vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, onions, peppers, salad greens, etc.
- Whole grains and starches: bread, pasta, rice, oats, potatoes
- Dairy: milk, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Healthy proteins: salmon, tilapia, pork loin, tenderloin steak, chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, peas
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkins seeds, sunflower seeds,
- Oils: canola and olive oil
In fact, a low intake of fruits and vegetables may be why some people develop COPD when exposed to harmful chemicals (15).
If you struggle with getting enough calories, eat smaller, more frequent meals and snacks.
SUMMARY: Avoid foods rich in calories but void of nutrients like sugary drinks and fried foods. Instead, fill up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Drink high-calorie shakes if you struggle to eat enough.
3-day sample COPD diet menu
Here is an example of a 3-day sample COPD diet menu that includes plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to support lung health:
- Breakfast: oatmeal and scrambled eggs
- Lunch: grilled chicken wrap and roasted veggies
- Snack: Ensure Max Protein shake
- Dinner: pulled pork sandwich on a whole-grain bun and an apple
Day 2 (vegan)
- Breakfast: berries and Fiber One Original Bran made with soy milk
- Lunch: garbanzo bean salad
- Snack: peanut butter and apple slices
- Dinner: black bean burrito bowl
- Breakfast: peanut butter toast topped with banana slices
- Lunch: salad with hard-boiled eggs
- Snack: Greek yogurt and pear slices
- Dinner: baked salmon, whole-wheat pasta, and green beans
SUMMARY: Include plenty of nutrient-rich foods in your diet like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and supplement your diet with high-calorie shakes as needed.
Vitamin D and lung function
While classified as a vitamin, vitamin D is more of a hormone.
More than 30 organs, including your lungs, have vitamin D receptors to which vitamin D binds and exerts a range of functions (16).
As such, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that people with COPD supplement with vitamin D (20).
While it’s possible to maintain an adequate level of vitamin D through a healthy diet, few foods naturally contain the vitamin.
Therefore, a supplement is a more effective and efficient way to restore and maintain optimal vitamin D levels, especially if you have trouble eating enough calories to maintain your body weight.
Depending on the severity of the deficiency, you may require a higher dose of vitamin D than what you can purchase online or in stores to efficiently restore your levels.
You can vitamin D supplements online.
SUMMARY: Many people with COPD are deficient in or have inadequate vitamin D levels. Supplementing with vitamin D may help improve lung function and improve your symptoms.
Exercise and COPD
While your nutrition is an important component for managing COPD, exercise should be too.
By strengthening your lungs, heart, and other muscles, exercise can make it easier for you to complete daily activities without becoming winded and having to take frequent breaks from them.
Activities like preparing meals, laundry, cleaning, and walking your dog become less exhausting with regular exercise.
Talk with your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation, a program that consists of exercise and education led by a team of health care providers.
SUMMARY: Exercise strengthens your lungs, heart, and other muscles, making it easier for you to complete daily activities and responsibilities.
The bottom line
COPD occurs when your airways become inflamed from long-term exposure to harmful particles or gases.
Eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may improve your lung function and reduce complications from COPD.
Supplementing vitamin D and participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can also improve your lung function and make it easier to complete daily tasks.