The biggest issue plaguing people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is difficulty breathing, which, among other things, can lead to weight loss, muscle and bone breakdown, and vitamin deficiencies affecting all parts and functions of the body. While there is no one diet or group of foods that are perfectly suited for people with COPD, there are foods that can work to alleviate, avoid, and, in some cases, reverse issues caused by difficulty breathing.
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What makes a specific food better suited for someone with COPD comes down to how much carbon dioxide it produces in the body when consumed. Because your lungs are tasked with exhaling carbon dioxide, the more carbs you eat, the more stress is put on your lungs, and therefore the worse your COPD becomes. Therefore, the less carbon dioxide is produced, the better people with COPD can manage their health.
Carbohydrates, especially fast-acting carbohydrates, produce the most carbon dioxide in the body. Fats and proteins produce the least. With this in mind, as someone with COPD, you want to prioritize foods that fit within the guidelines explained below.
How to Eat for People with COPD
Studies show that following a high fat, low-carb ketogenic diet produces less carbon dioxide than following a low-fat, higher-carb diet. However, when following a high-fat diet, it’s important to prioritize the right kinds of fats. Specifically, prioritize healthy omega-3 fatty acids and poly- and monounsaturated fats over certain saturated (animal) fats or hydrogenated fats found in skin from meat, vegetable oils, shortening, fried foods, cookies, crackers, and pastries.
Healthy fats include:
- Nuts (nut butter also works if chewing is too tiring)
- Olive oil
- Fatty cold water fish like salmon
Adding plenty of these fats to your diet also makes hitting your caloric requirement easier, which can be difficult for people with COPD due to a decreased appetite and breathing problems. Whereas carbohydrates only provide 4-calories per gram, fat provides 9-calories.
Another high-calorie food worth adding to your diet in moderation is milk (at least 2-percent). In addition to adding fat and helping you to hit your daily caloric requirement, milk also offers protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
If you find yourself having trouble meeting your caloric requirement, try spreading out your meals more sporadically throughout the day. Instead of three big meals, try five small-to-medium meals instead. This way, in addition to potentially packing in more calories, you reduce the risk of your stomach pushing up against your diaphragm making it harder for you to breathe. (To learn more, read up on some more of our Healthy Eating Tips for COPD Patients).