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COPD Diet: What Foods to Eat and Avoid for COPD

COPD Diet: What Foods to Eat and Avoid for COPD

Apria Editorial |

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may wonder how your diet affects your condition. COPD is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe, especially during physical activity. It can also cause inflammation, mucus production, and frequent chest infections.

Eating a balanced diet can help you manage your COPD symptoms and improve your overall health. In this article, we will explain what foods to eat and avoid for better breathing and provide a sample meal plan for a COPD diet.

What to eat for COPD

According to research, a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods may help prevent and manage COPD. Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause inflammation and disease. Anti-inflammatory foods are those that reduce inflammation in your body.

Some of the foods that are high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Fruits and vegetables: These are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that can boost your immune system and protect your lungs. Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day and choose a variety of colors. Some of the best fruits and vegetables for COPD are berries, citrus fruits, apples, leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.
  • Whole grains: These are complex carbohydrates that provide energy and fiber for your body. They also contain B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and other nutrients that can support your lung function. Examples of whole grains are oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, and whole wheat bread and pasta.
  • Lean protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing your muscles, including the ones that help you breathe. It also helps you feel full and satisfied after a meal. Choose lean sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as fish, poultry, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Healthy fats: Fats are important for your brain, heart, skin, and hormone health. They also provide energy and help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins. However, not all fats are created equal. Some fats can increase inflammation and worsen your COPD symptoms. Avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats from red meat, butter, cheese, and processed foods. Instead, opt for unsaturated fats from plant sources or fatty fish. These include olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and trout.

Foods to avoid with COPD

Some foods can cause problems for people with COPD, such as gas, bloating, mucus production, or water retention. These can affect your breathing ability or increase your risk of infections. Foods to avoid or limit include:

Salt: Too much salt or sodium in your diet can cause water retention in your body, which may affect your breathing ability. It can also raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day (about one teaspoon of salt). To reduce your salt intake, avoid adding salt to your food or cooking with it. Also, read food labels carefully and choose low-sodium or no-salt-added products. You can also use herbs, spices, vinegar, lemon juice, or other flavorings to enhance the taste of your food without adding salt.

Simple carbohydrates: These are sugars that provide quick energy but little nutritional value. They can also raise your blood sugar levels rapidly, which may affect your breathing ability. Simple carbohydrates include refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries; sugary drinks such as soda, juice, and sports drinks; candy, chocolate, and desserts; and honey, syrup, and jam. If you have diabetes or prediabetes, you should be especially careful with your carbohydrate intake and follow the advice of your doctor or dietitian.

Certain fruits and vegetables: Some fruits and vegetables may cause gas and bloating in some people due to their content of fermentable carbohydrates. This may lead to breathing problems in people with COPD. Fruits and vegetables that may cause gas and bloating include apples, pears, stone fruits (such as apricots and peaches), melons, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower), onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, beans, lentils, and peas. However, these foods are also rich in antioxidants and fiber, so you may not need to avoid them entirely. You can try eating smaller portions or cooking them well to make them easier to digest. You can also experiment with different fruits and vegetables to see what works best for you.

Dairy products: Some dairy products, such as milk and cheese, may make your mucus thicker and harder to cough up. This can worsen your COPD symptoms and increase your risk of infections. However, dairy products are also good sources of protein and calcium, so you may not need to avoid them completely. You can try switching to low-fat or lactose-free dairy products or using alternatives, such as soy milk or almond milk. You can also drink plenty of water to thin your mucus and make it easier to expel.

Fried and greasy foods: Fried, deep-fried, or greasy foods can cause gas and indigestion, which may affect your breathing ability. They can also increase your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.Examples of fried and greasy foods are French fries, chips, onion rings, doughnuts, burgers, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and pizza. Instead of frying your food, you can try baking, roasting, grilling, steaming, or boiling it. You can also use cooking spray or a small amount of oil instead of butter or lard.

Heavily spiced foods: Some spices, such as chili peppers, curry powder, cumin, and garlic powder, may irritate your throat and lungs and cause coughing or wheezing. They may also cause heartburn or acid reflux, which can worsen your COPD symptoms. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, you may want to avoid them or use them sparingly. You can also try milder spices and herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and mint.

COPD Nutrition and Cooking Tips

Here are some tips to make cooking easier and healthier for people with COPD:

  • Plan ahead: Planning your meals in advance can help you save time and energy. You can also prepare some dishes ahead of time and freeze them for later use. You can also use a slow cooker or an instant pot to make soups, stews, casseroles, and other dishes with minimal effort.
  • Choose easy recipes: Look for recipes that have few ingredients, simple steps, and short cooking times. You can also use pre-cut or frozen fruits and vegetables, canned beans or fish, and ready-made sauces or dressings to save time and energy. You can also modify recipes to suit your taste and tolerance. For example, you can use less salt or spice, or substitute ingredients that cause problems.
  • Cook in batches: Cooking large quantities of food at once can help you have leftovers for another meal or snack. You can also freeze extra portions for later use. This way, you don't have to cook every day and you always have something healthy to eat when you are hungry or tired.
  • Use proper ventilation: Cooking can produce smoke, steam, or fumes that can irritate your lungs and worsen your COPD symptoms. To avoid this, make sure you have good ventilation in your kitchen. You can open a window or use an exhaust fan or hood over your stove. You can also avoid frying or broiling your food, which tends to produce more smoke than other methods.

Sample COPD diet plan

Here is a sample meal plan for a COPD diet that provides about 2,000 calories per day. You can adjust the portions and food choices according to your calorie needs, preferences, and tolerance.


  • 1 cup of cooked oatmeal with 1/4 cup of raisins, 1 tablespoon of chopped walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk or soy milk
  • 1 medium banana


  • 1/4 cup of hummus with 10 baby carrots


  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 3 ounces of roasted turkey breast, 1 slice of low-fat cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mustard
  • 1 cup of vegetable soup with low-sodium broth
  • 1 small apple


  • 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt with 1/4 cup of granola and 1/4 cup of blueberries


  • 4 ounces of baked salmon with lemon juice and dill
  • 1/2 cup of brown rice with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and parsley
  • 1 cup of steamed broccoli with 1 teaspoon of margarine
  • 1 whole wheat roll


  • 2 graham crackers with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter


Q: Should I only rely on dietary changes for managing COPD symptoms?
While a healthy diet is crucial for managing COPD, it's important to explore a comprehensive approach to treatment. In addition to diet, consider other COPD solutions and treatments that can greatly improve your quality of life. Explore options like pulmonary rehabilitation, medications, and lifestyle changes. For more information on COPD solutions, visit this link.

Q: Can certain foods worsen COPD symptoms?
Yes, some foods can exacerbate symptoms. Avoid excessive salt, as it can lead to fluid retention and worsen breathing difficulties. Also, steer clear of gassy foods like carbonated beverages and beans, which can cause bloating and discomfort.

Q: Is it essential to limit dairy products in a COPD diet?
Not necessarily. Some COPD patients may be sensitive to dairy and experience increased mucus production. However, if dairy doesn't seem to affect your symptoms, you can include it in moderation.

Q: Are supplements necessary for COPD patients?
It's best to get your nutrients from whole foods whenever possible. However, consult your healthcare provider about potential deficiencies and the need for supplements.

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