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Improve Your Quality of Life with a Healthy COPD Diet

October 18, 2019
If you’re living with COPD, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about your breathing. But are you spending enough time thinking about your diet? COPD patients have unique nutritional needs. Some of these requirements might seem puzzling at first — for example, a higher-fat diet might be helpful for some with COPD. And losing too much weight with COPD can be a health risk. Learning why diets for COPD patients are so important, and what foods to choose and avoid are good first steps to a healthier life with this disease.
 
COPD Nutrition 101
While you’ve probably heard the term “metabolism,” you might not know exactly what it means. Metabolism is our body’s process of turning the food we eat and oxygen we breathe into energy. The waste product of metabolism is carbon dioxide, which we expel when we exhale. These facts influence how someone with COPD should plan their diet.
  • Not all foods are alike. Carbohydrates produce more carbon dioxide through metabolism than fats.
  • Less carbon dioxide is better. Higher carbon dioxide levels can make breathing more difficult if you have COPD. It also can lead to feelings of weakness.
  • Eating healthy fats can help. Physicians often emphasize a Mediterranean-style diet filled with grains and vegetables. However, this might not be the best approach if you have COPD. Instead, a nutritionist might steer you toward a low-carbohydrate, high-fat ketogenic diet.
 
Why Calories and Weight Matter
People with COPD require more energy to breathe than those without the disease. In fact, the muscles involved in breathing can burn through up to 10 times the calories an average person requires. This makes it very important to ensure you’re taking in enough calories every day to support your lung function.
 
Monitoring your weight closely is also important when you have COPD. Your lungs and heart have to work harder if you’re overweight, which could make breathing more difficult. But being underweight can lead to feeling weak and tired, because you aren’t taking in enough calories to support your breathing. It’s important to work with a professional nutritionist to find the right mix for you. Here are some general tips for a better COPD diet plan:
  • Protein for power. Healthy protein sources support strong breathing muscles. These include lean meats and low-fat dairy sources if you need to lose weight and whole-dairy milk, cheese and yogurt if you need to gain weight.
  • The right fats for calories. Your nutritionist might recommend adding fat to your diet. But this doesn’t mean piling on the fried food. Healthier fats include: avocadoes and nuts; coconut oil and olive oil; and fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel.
  • Make your carbohydrates complex.  Complex carbohydrates include high-fiber vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Examples include carrots and squash, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, macadamia nuts and pumpkin seeds.
 
How Eating Habits Can Help
In planning your COPD diet, how and when you eat can be as important as the food you choose. This can mean rethinking the standard three meals a day most of us are used to. It also can mean taking special measures to ensure you’re comfortable while you’re eating.
  • Wear your cannula. Be sure to wear your cannula while eating if your doctor has prescribed continuous oxygen. You’ll need it, because eating and digestion require energy.
  • Eat early. Eat more food earlier in the day. This will help ensure you get the calories you need and will help give you energy for the rest of your day.
  • Eat often. Consider eating 4 to 6 smaller meals a day. This will help keep your stomach from filling up too much, so your lungs have room to expand.
  • Time your liquids. Drinking before or during a meal can make you feel full. Try drinking liquids at the end of a meal instead.