Eating Well for COPD Patients

The USDA food pyramid provides guidelines for healthy food choices, but the ultimate decision regarding what you eat is up to you.

Individuals with COPD can receive several benefits from proper nutrition. Depending on your condition, it can also influence the severity of COPD, so be sure to ask your doctor which foods are best for your condition. Changing your eating habits will not cure COPD, but it can help you feel better mentally and physically. Consult with your physician regarding optimum nutrition and exercise recommendations for your condition.

Tips for Eating Well

Nutrition can impact your body’s immune system in a variety of ways. Your body fights infection with cells made of proteins, and a poor diet reduces the ability of your body to fight infection and repair damaged tissue, putting you at risk for developing respiratory infections. This is why you should achieve a balance of good nutrition and exercise to stay as healthy as possible. Some of the following tips for eating healthy can help:

  • Drink lots of fluids. At least eight cups of caffeine-free fluid daily, unless you have a medical condition in which liquids should be restricted. Fluid keeps mucus thin and keeps your body hydrated. And since oxygen use can be drying to your mucus membranes, drinking enough fluids can help prevent dehydration and the accumulation of mucus.
  • Eat lightly, but often Three small meals and three snacks a day will help your body to maintain caloric processing and keep you from feeling too full. Too much food at once can distend your stomach and crowd your diaphragm, making breathing difficult. Eat larger meals earlier in the day, and avoid lying down after meals.
  • Cook when feeling most energetic. Choose foods that are easy to prepare, and freeze leftovers for future meals.
  • Avoid gas-forming foods (fried foods, corn, raw apples, broccoli, beans, celery, brussels sprouts, raisins, salads) Also limit carbonated beverages if you are prone to gas.
  • Keep 100% fruit juice and water in your refrigerator (and avoid fruit punch).
  • Rest before eating.
  • Choose softer foods. They make it easier to chew if you feel short of breath. Avoid tough meat products.
  • Eat a variety of foods from all food groups to ensure adequate nutritional intake.

Eating Well: Nutritional Facts

  • Control your sodium intake. Eating too much salt causes your body to retain water, making breathing more difficult. Avoid processed and prepackaged foods as well as fast foods and restaurants. Use herbs or no-salt spices to flavor food, and use fresh meats and fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Eat foods high in protein. Protein helps repair and build cells. The amount you need depends on your nutritional status; generally, six ounces of protein a day and two cups of milk provide an adequate amount of high- value protein.
  • Calcium. Especially important for women and those on steroid medication. Calcium builds bones and helps regulate blood pressure. You can get adequate calcium from dairy products, supplements and vegetables.
  • Potassium. Important for blood pressure control, muscle contraction, and nervous system function. Some medications can cause potassium depletion, so be sure to check with your healthcare provider. Potassium is found in tomatoes, bananas, apricots, potatoes, raisins and nuts.

Maintaining a Desirable Weight is Extremely Important if You Have COPD

Ask your doctor or dietitian what your goal weight should be and how often you should weigh yourself. If you are taking diuretics (water pills) or steroids, weigh yourself daily. Contact your doctor if you experience unusual weight gains or losses (two pounds a day or five pounds in a week).


If you are overweight, the workload on your heart increases, making it more challenging for oxygen to be distributed to the rest of your body. Additionally, excess fat in the abdominal area can put pressure on your diaphragm, making it difficult to breathe. These factors may cause you to experience conditions such as water retention in the feet and legs, or poor skin tone—a result of a lack of oxygen distribution to your body tissues.

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid fried or breaded foods
  • Avoid overeating (eat lighter, smaller meals more often in the day)
  • Include high-fiber foods in your diet
  • Keep healthy snacks available for nibbling
  • Increase your exercise (ask your health care provider to make recommendations for weight loss goals)
  • Pay attention to food labels


If you are underweight, your body’s muscle mass is reduced, inducing respiratory muscles; consequently making breathing more difficult. Your body must work harder to breathe, which creates a higher caloric need and additional weight loss. You may also face conditions like poor appetite or apparent muscle wasting.

  • Drink whole or 2% milk and 100% fruit juice instead of drinking low-calorie beverages
  • Ask your healthcare provider about nutritional supplements. Specific snacks, drinks or vitamins may be prescribed between meals
  • Avoid overeating (eat lighter, smaller meals more often in the day)
  • Avoid low-fat or low-calorie products unless you’ve been instructed to do so. Use whole milk, whole milk cheese, and yogurt
  • Keep healthy snacks available for nibbling
  • Add some of these high-calorie items to meals to help increase calories: cheese, dried fruit, mayonnaise, peanut butter, eggs, sour cream, yogurt, honey, jam, sugar, granola, cream cheese.

Issues with Weakness or Immobility

Do you feel weak? If you are less active than you used to be, your body’s muscle mass may be decreasing, causing you to feel weak. Weakness may also result from diuretics or water pills that cause the body to lose potassium. Check with your doctor, who may suggest dietary changes in addition to more exercise. You should be getting sufficient vitamins and minerals from fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as adequate protein (60-75 grams per day) from milk, meats, cheeses, peanut butter, nuts and eggs.

Are you short of breath during or after meals? Try some of these tips to help avoid shortness of breath while eating:

  • Always eat while sitting up (it eases the pressure on your lungs)
  • Eat slowly; take small bites and chew slowly, breathing deeply
  • Put your utensils down between bites
  • Choose foods that are easy to chew
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals during the day so that your stomach never feels extremely full
  • If eating breakfast is difficult, try drinking a nutrition shake in place of a full meal
  • Liquids can make you feel even more full or bloated during a meal; try drinking them at the end of the meal or between meals
  • Wear your cannula while eating if continuous oxygen is prescribed; eating and digestion require energy and your body may need the oxygen
  • Avoid gas-forming foods

Challenges with Prolonged Immobility


Some of the issues resulting from confinement to your bed can be avoided with adequate care and increased awareness of dietary needs.

  • Fluids: Drink 6-8 glasses of caffeine-free beverages of day, including water and 100% fruit juices (like cranberry juice). Check with your healthcare provider to be sure that your liquid intake doesn’t interfere with your specific condition.
  • Diet: Eat foods high in fiber—like fruits and vegetables—to encourage digestive tract functionality.
  • Laxatives: Add a little lemon juice to prune juice for improved flavor. Ask your physician or Registered Dietitian if a fiber supplement is right for you.
  • Kidney Stones. Calcium depletion is sometimes a result of prolonged immobility. Since kidneys are the main route of calcium excretion, the depletion of calcium from bones may cause calcium stones to form in the urinary tract. Check with your physician or Registered Dietitian to assess your calcium levels for nutritional recommendations.

Feeling Bloated

Many people with COPD feel bloated or full quickly after eating. It’s likely that air swallowed during eating can cause this; however, lack of exercise or the ingestion of gas-forming foods may also contribute to the problem. Some gas-forming foods to avoid could include:

  • Avocados, raw apples, watermelon
  • Beans, lentils, nuts
  • Broccoli, cucumbers, green peppers
  • Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Honeydew melon, cantaloupe
  • Leeks, onions, turnips
  • Soybeans
  • Fried or greasy foods

Are You Getting Enough Fiber?

Fiber is the indigestible part of plant food that helps move food along your digestive tract, better controls blood glucose levels, and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Fiber helps control bowel function, is low in calories, can lower cholesterol levels in the blood, and seems to slow the absorption of carbohydrates and lower blood-sugar levels and insulin requirements for diabetics.

Ideally, you should consume 20-35 grams of fiber a day from the following high-fiber foods:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Cooked dried peas and beans
  • Whole-grain breads and rice
  • Oatmeal and other high-fiber cold and bran cereals
  • Salads

Do You Need Vitamins and Mineral Supplements?

Vitamins are organic substances from living matter—plants and animals. They are required in the diet in such small amounts that all of the needed vitamins together add up to about an eighth of a teaspoon per day. Small doses of supplements are most effective when taken with meals, since food helps in their absorption and use by the body.

If you regularly eat a variety of fresh and low-processed foods every day, it is not likely that you require a vitamin or mineral supplement. However, many people don’t eat their optimum level of nutrient-rich foods and therefore may benefit from a low-potency, well-balanced multiple vitamin and mineral supplement.

You might need a vitamin or mineral supplement if you:

  • Eat out often
  • Follow a poorly-balanced diet
  • Eat highly-processed foods
  • Eat high-fat and sugar snacks in place of nutritious foods
  • Ingest less than 1,500 calories per day
  • Have or are recovering from an illness, anemia, or injury
  • Smoke heavily
  • Take medicines daily (antibiotics, diabetes drugs, anticonvulsants)
  • Consume alcoholic beverages excessively