If you have trouble breathing, daily activities—even eating a meal—can be a challenge.
Healthy eating is particularly important if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a common lung condition that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. About 24 million people in the U.S. have COPD.
People with COPD often lose weight and become malnourished because "they burn a lot of calories," says Norman H. Edelman, MD, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. "[COPD] is a hypermetabolic state."
Follow these 15 healthy eating tips for people with COPD.
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Find the right atmosphere so you feel relaxed during meals. Whether this means eating with friends or family or eating alone, find out what works best for you.
Take pleasure in the environment and the experience, and try to include a favorite food in each meal.
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Make it simple
If you find eating meals fatiguing, focus on easy-to-prepare meals.
In general, the simpler the meal prep, the better. Pick foods that don’t take a lot of work and that can be used in numerous recipes.
Store some leftovers to cut down on prep time, too.
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Take your meds
If you use medication to improve your breathing, try to take them before eating; if you use oxygen, continue to use it during a meal.
Eating can increase the body's demand for oxygen, so you'll need it.
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Whenever possible, don't recline when eating a meal.
"Lying down just compromises breathing more," says Dr. Edelman, because it places extra pressure on the lungs.
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Eat smaller meals, more often
"People who have emphysema do best if they eat several small meals a day, because the diaphragm is pressing on their stomach and they really can’t fill up their stomach," says Dr. Edelman.
Plus, a full belly can press back against the diaphragm, making breathing harder.
Get the nutrients and fuel you need in smaller doses by spreading your day's eating out over six small meals.
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Eat your biggest meal early
If you like to have a main meal during the day, eat it earlier in the day.
The food will give you energy for the rest of the day, and you won't have to expend extra energy to eat a larger meal at the end of the day when you are already tired.
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Don't skip breakfast
COPD can make breathing in the morning particularly difficult. But that's no excuse to skip breakfast.
Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day for a reasonyou need that early meal to fuel the rest of your day.
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If you usually have trouble breathing during a meal, plan ahead.
Take a short nap or rest before eating; it may help.
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Don't drink while eating
Try to hold off on drinking until the end of the meal, so you won't get full too fast. A beverage before or during a meal can fill you up more quickly.
"We want to get food in; we don't want [patients] to fill up their stomachwhich has a limited capacitywith liquid," says Dr. Edelman.
It's not a bad idea to get your liquids from nutritional supplement shakes consumed between meals, he adds.
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Ban the bloat
Foods like broccoli, cabbage, and beans can cause gas, and fried and greasy foods can lead to bloating.
The pressure on your lower belly from both will make breathing more difficult, so eat only small amounts of these and other gas-forming foods.
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Take your time while eating; it'll prevent you from becoming short of breath.
The best trick? Put your spoon or fork down between each bite.
"It's a matter of being slow and deliberate," says Dr. Edelman. "Take some food, chew it, swallow it, then rest, then breathe, then take some food again."
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Get some variety
To get all the nutrients and vitamins you need, make sure to eat a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, and meats.
Foods high in antioxidantslike berries and nutsmay be especially helpful, says Dr. Edelman; a limited amount of research suggests these foods may be beneficial to lung health.
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Cut down on salt
Salty foods are also guilty of causing bloat; too much salt can cause you to retain fluids and hamper your breathing.
Plenty of natural herbs and spices add flavor to your food without upping the sodium content.
If you are buying packaged or pre-made foods, look for low-sodium options.
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Consume calories wisely
Don't exhaust yourself eating foods with little nutritional value.
Junk food isn't giving you the nutrients you need, so stay away from salty and fatty snacks, candy, and sugary soft drinks.
Also, pick foods that are relatively easy to chew, and avoid anything too difficult to digest, says Dr. Edelman.
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The most obvious way to avoid shortness of breath, during meals or any other time, is to kick the habit.
Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. If you smoke, it's not too late to give it up, even if you've already done damage to your lungs.
Quitting now will still slow the progress of COPD and possibly prevent other lung diseases.
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