Better Bites for Better Breathing!

Good Nutrition Helps You Better Manage COPD

COPD—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—is a condition where your lungs become inflamed and thickened, which blocks airflow and makes breathing more difficult. Smoking cigarettes is a leading cause of COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with COPD have a greater risk for heart disease, lung cancer, and other conditions.

Today, more than 16 million Americans have COPD, which can get worse over time. And although it can’t be cured, COPD can be managed. One proven method: watching what you eat.

Lesley Williams, Registered Respiratory Therapist and Apria’s Market Clinical Trainer, says, “Studies show that a healthy, nutritious diet can help you breathe more easily.”

How Your Diet Affects Your Breathing

Quite simply, food is the fuel that helps your body perform everyday activities, including breathing. And for people with COPD, breathing requires more energy.

Food provides your body with such nutrients as protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In a process called metabolism, your body converts food and oxygen into energy.

Research reveals that people with COPD who eat a nutritious diet can:

  • Reduce inflammation and improve lung function
  • Maintain and increase muscle strength
  • Help fight infections, especially chest infections
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Maintain a healthy body weight (being overweight makes breathing more difficult)

Stick with These Foods

A healthy diet includes the right combination of nutrients. Research also shows that people with COPD are better able to manage their condition on a high-fat, low-carb diet.

Following are some of your best food choices, especially if you have COPD:

Mono and polyunsaturated fats

Unlike fried foods, a diet with “healthful” fats can help lower your cholesterol. They are often liquid at room temperature and are derived from plants, such as safflower, corn, and canola oils.

Other foods that contain mono and polyunsaturated fats include:

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocados
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbs are high in fiber to improve digestion, reduce cholesterol levels, and promote weight loss.

Foods with complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole-grain bread and pasta
  • Fresh fruit
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Bran, oats, barley
  • Lentils and beans


Protein-rich food helps increase muscle mass and, if needed, helps people gain weight. Include the following in your diet:

  • Low-fat or lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • Low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Tofu
  • Legumes

Potassium-rich foods

Having a potassium deficiency can cause breathing problems. To maintain lung function, it’s critical to eat foods with high levels of potassium, including:

  • Beets
  • Bananas
  • Asparagus
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Dark leafy greens

Vitamins and minerals

Many people with COPD take steroids to reduce airway inflammation. But long-term steroid use can lead to osteoporosis (weak or brittle bones). To keep bones strong, it’s important to get plenty of calcium and vitamin D into your diet.

Following are good sources for calcium:

  • Low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Sardines
  • Kale, okra, collards
  • Almonds
  • Soybeans, white beans
  • Foods fortified with calcium
  • Calcium supplements

Following are good sources for vitamin D:

  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese
  • Certain fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • Beef liver
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D
  • Vitamin D supplements


People with COPD should drink plenty of water—at least 6-8 glasses a day. This ensures the body is hydrated and keeps any mucus thin and easy to cough up.

However, if you also have heart problems, ask your doctor if you need to limit the amount of fluid you drink.

Stay Away from These Foods

There are certain foods that people with COPD should limit or stay away from entirely:

Trans fats and saturated fats

Unlike mono and polyunsaturated fats, these are “unhealthy” fats. Some examples:

  • Fast food
  • Bacon and other processed meats
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Butter
  • Margarine
  • Sugary pastries
  • Lard
  • Cookies
  • Shortening

Simple carbohydrates

Avoid the following that are less nutritious than complex carbohydrates:

  • Processed foods
  • White bread and pasta
  • Table sugar
  • Sugary drinks
  • Cakes and other sugary desserts
  • Chocolate and candy


Too much salt can cause you to retain water, which may make breathing harder. Too much salt can also increase your blood pressure. Speak with your doctor or dietitian about how much salt you should be eating each day. Also, check food labels and avoid food with more than 300 mg of sodium per serving.

Foods that cause gas or bloating

Gas and bloating can lead to breathing problems. Limit or avoid the following:

  • Some fruits, such as apples, fruit with pits (apricots and peaches), and melons
  • Some vegetables and legumes, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, soybeans, and peas
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Heavily spiced food
  • Fried, deep-fried, or greasy food

Dairy products

Dairy products like cheese and milk make some people’s mucus and phlegm thicker. If this doesn’t happen to you, you can continue eating dairy products.


If you’re on medication, the caffeine in chocolate may decrease its effectiveness. Talk to your doctor about how much chocolate is safe for you.


Alcohol can also interact with medication and slow your breathing rate, making it more difficult to cough up phlegm. Again, ask your doctor about alcohol use.

Eat Better, Breathe Better, Feel Better

Eating is one of the joys of life. Lesley Williams adds, “Eating nutritiously is a proven way to manage COPD, reduce breathing problems, and help you feel better overall.” Be sure to talk to your doctor or a dietitian about creating a special diet that meets your specific needs.

Apria is a leader in COPD management

We offer custom treatment plans, work closely with your physician’s office care team to manage your COPD through its many stages, deliver a wide range of treatment options, and provide ongoing monitoring to optimize your treatment. Learn more.


1. COPD. Mayo Clinic.
2. Nutrition and COPD. American Lung Association.
3. Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD. Cleveland Clinic.
4. St. Florian, I. Nutrition and COPD - Dietary Considerations for Better Breathing. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 11 No. 2 P. 54.
5. Janchote, C. (2019, February 11). COPD Nutrition Guide: 5 Diet Tips for People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Healthline.
6. Morales-Brown, L. (2020, July 13). What to know about COPD and diet. Medical News Today.\

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About the AuthorApria

Apria is a leading provider of home healthcare equipment and related services across the USA, offering a comprehensive range of products and services for in-home care and delivery of respiratory therapy, obstructive sleep apnea treatment, and negative pressure wound therapy, along with additional equipment and services.