Eat Healthy for Better Respiratory Health: Tips for People Who Have COPD

Health Professional

When you have COPD, just getting through the day can sometimes be tough. Performing your daily activities of living, such as bathing, dressing and even eating, can be even tougher. That's why I thought it could be useful to provide some tips on eating healthy that will also help you breathe easier and maintain a more stable health status.

In general, anyone, whether dealing with a chronic illness like COPD or in perfect health, can benefit from practicing healthy eating. Eating the right foods at the right times in the right amounts just makes practical sense. You'll have more energy, you'll feel better and you'll help your body resist infection and other complications of illness.

Tips for Healthy Eating

Eating healthy is not about being on some kind of restrictive diet. It's about balancing your intake correctly between the various food groups. It's also about giving your body the fuel it needs to get you through each day. Food is fuel, plain and simple.

But just as there are different qualities of gas at the gas station, there are different qualities of food fuel. Choosing the right fuels is essential. So, here are some general guidelines for health eating.

  • Drink plenty of fluids each day, unless you are on a fluid restriction for some reason. Most people will benefit from 6 to 8 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day. It doesn't all have to be water, but watch your intake of caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea and soda. High sugar fluids like soft drinks and fruit juices should be used in moderation as well. Also, limit your fluid intake in the evening, in order to avoid nighttime trips to the toilet.
  • Fill up with vegetables. Most adults should eat between 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. Green, leafy veggies, as well as other brightly colored vegetables can provide plenty of minerals and vitamins to keep you healthy. In addition, they'll provide fiber to keep your bowels moving. Do be aware, though, of vegetables that may interfere with medications you are taking or that cause you to have bloating and/or gas.

  • Add raw, fresh fruits to your daily intake. Fruit juice and canned fruits have some nutritional benefit, but can also have a lot of added sugar. Try to stick with raw or frozen fruits with no added sweeteners. If you have trouble eating a whole fruit, try cutting it up or pureeing it. Overall, half of your plate at each meal should consist of fruits and vegetables.

  • Include grains in your daily intake, but make them whole grains. Limit your intake of "white" grains like white bread, rice, pasta, etc. Switch to brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread and so forth. Even with whole grains, it's important not to load up on them. Make them a small accent to your meals.

  • Eat enough protein to fuel your body. Everyone needs protein, which most people think of as meat, poultry and fish. But proteins can also be found in beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds.  Select a variety of protein foods, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week, but choose the low fat varieties as much as you can.

  • Maintain your calcium intake with dairy products. Dairy products can be very beneficial, but they should be the low-fat types, whether you're choosing milk, yogurt, cottage cheese or other products. Avoid dairy products with added sugar and salt.

  • Limit your salt intake. Eating a lot of salt or salty foods can make your body retain fluid and that can tax your airways and make it harder to breathe. Try to avoid adding salt to your food at the table. Using pepper or other spices can help. Also, read food labels to get more familiar with the salt content in the food you eat, especially prepared foods. Don't use a salt substitute unless your doctor has approved it. They may not be as healthy as they sound** In Summary**

Eating healthy requires some preparation and commitment. But the benefits to your overall health and your respiratory health make the effort well worth it. You don't have to do it all at once. Make small changes to your eating habits each month and before you know it, you'll be eating much healthier and feeling much better too!

For information on how to overcome some of the challenges to healthy eating when you have COPD, check out this companion post: Tips for Managing the Challenges of Healthy Eating With COPD