Best Eating Habits for People with Respiratory Diseases


You might be surprised to learn that the food you eat influences more than your digestive system, and your diet actually has a big impact on other systems in your body. The food you eat can fuel your muscles, strengthen your bones, clear your mind, and even help you breathe better, if you are eating the right foods.


You need a variety of foods with different nutrients to get all of the needs your body requires, and no single food will supply you with everything— which is why a healthy diet is one with plenty of variety.


If you have a respiratory disease, breathing complications are obviously one of the main symptoms that that you have to struggle with daily. Options to combat breathlessness are medications like bronchodilators in the form of inhalers, and utilizing oxygen therapy in the form of a portable oxygen concentrator. However, simple daily tasks should also be noted as some of the most important ways to treat and manage your respiratory disease, and this includes changing your diet.



If you have a respiratory disease, you can eat a specific diet that will actually help you to breathe easier, and will contribute to relieving your respiratory systems and help to ease the experience with pains or implications your disease may be posing on you.


You and your healthcare team should devise a meal plan, just for you, based on your symptoms and personal nutrient deficiencies. You can also start to meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) that will help you figure out the best foods for you. You can find a RDN who specializes in diets for respiratory illnesses by asking your doctor to recommend you to one or visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics online and doing your own research.




So while your diet plan will be specific to you and your needs, changing your diet and eating healthy can be very challenging especially if you don’t normally pay much attention to your diet. Therefore, you can take some advice in this article that will help you develop healthier eating habits.


Maintaining a healthy weight




You should start to weigh yourself regularly, and monitor whether you are gaining or losing weight after setting up your diet plan. If you continue to lose or gain weight while following your recommended diet, talk to your doctor and RDN and make sure this is normal, and if you should be maintaining a steady weight, become informed on how to make changes in your diet. There are several health complications that can result from being underweight or overweight.


Maintaining a healthy weight is so important because if you are well-nourished you will be able to handle infections should you be exposed to a virus or bacteria. When people with a respiratory disease get an infection, it can become serious quickly and result in hospitalization either due to exacerbated symptoms or other complications. Should you catch a common cold or flu and illness does occur, having a well-nourished diet can help you fight off the infection, respond better to treatment, and have less severe symptoms.


Food and your respiratory system



Your metabolism will change the food in your body into energy that your muscles use. Your lungs are a muscle too that need fuel to operate correctly, and if you have a respiratory disease, like COPD for instance, your lungs are already compromised in doing their job. Therefore, the proper mix of nutrients in your diet can help you breathe easier.





If you have a respiratory disease, eating a diet with fewer carbohydrates and more fat will help you breathe easier.


Specifically choosing complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain bread and pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting simple carbohydrates, like table sugar, candy, cake and regular soft drinks.





Eating 20 to 30 grams of fiber each day, from items such as bread, pasta, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.





Eat a good source of protein at least twice a day to help maintain strong respiratory muscles. Good choices include eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts and dried beans or peas.


Mono-saturated fats

Choose mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, which do not contain cholesterol. These are fats that come from plant sources, such as canola, safflower and corn oils.


Foods to avoid

1. Trans fats and saturated fat. For example, butter, lard, fat and skin from meat, hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortening, fried foods, cookies, crackers and pastries.


2. Acidic foods and drinks. Eating acidic food and drinks like coffee creates heartburn and people with lung disease may find that acid reflux increases their lung disease symptoms. limit acidic foods and drinks like citrus, fruit juice, tomato sauce, coffee and spicy foods in order to reduce acid reflux symptoms, and therefore, lung disease symptoms.



3. Carbonated beverages. Unsurprisingly, carbonated beverages are filled with sugar, empty calories and lots of carbonation. Therefore, they contribute to weight gain and increased bloating. The increased gas and bloating are two factors you want to avoid if you have a lung disease. Bloating and weight gain can put more pressure on your already weakened lungs. Avoid carbonated beverages such as sodas, beer, sparkling wine or sparkling cider also contribute to dehydration. So, when you’re thirsty, hydrate with water.

4. Cold cuts. A study from European Respiratory Journal suggests that added nitrates from food like cold cuts increase the risk for COPD related hospital readmissions. Limit your cured meats such as bacon, cold cuts, ham and hotdogs because all of which contain additives called nitrates.


5. Cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli, radishes and cauliflower, are filled with nutrients and fiber, but if they give you extra gas, try limiting them, and substituting other veggies into your diet when you can. Gas and bloating are uncomfortable for people with respiratory disease because these symptoms can make breathing difficult.


6. Dairy products. While milk is filled with calcium, for people with lung disease, dairy products can worsen symptoms because it contains casomorphin which has been known to increase mucus in your intestines. People with lung disease often experience an increased production of mucus in their airways already, and clearing the mucus is an important aspect of managing the disease.


7. Excessive Salt A salt-heavy diet can be a problem for people with lung disease. Salt retains water, and having too much water in your system can cause breathing problems. Try using herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of your food rather than salt.


8. Fried Foods. Fried foods can cause bloating and discomfort which pushes on your diaphragm, making it difficult and uncomfortable to breathe. Eating a lot of fried food will lead to weight gain, which will add increased pressure on your lungs.


Some of these foods listed in this section are guilty pleasures, and every once a while it can be ok, even if you have a lung disease. However, if any of these foods are a part of your daily diet, it might be time to make a serious change and cut these foods out of your diet.




This is not easy, foods that are high in sugar and fat can be addicting, and no one ever said sticking to a well balanced diet was easy.


Here are some tips for changing your diet

While we have explained some basic nutrition guidelines for people with respiratory disease, we also know how challenging it can be to avoid certain foods as well as consistently adding certain foods into your daily meals.




We created a list of tips and some useful suggestions that will make changing your diet, and maintaining a health weight more attainable.


  1. Rest just before eating if eating makes you short of breath or tired
  2. Instead of eating three large meals a day, it may be helpful to aim to eat four to six smaller meals. This should reduce stomach fullness and associated pressure on the lungs.
  3. Eat your main meal earlier: You may find that you have more energy throughout the day if you eat your main meal earlier in the day.
  4. Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating, this makes breathing more difficult, these include onions, cauliflower, broccoli, melons, peas, corn, cucumbers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, raw apples, and beans (except green beans). Fried and greasy foods can also cause gas or bloating.
  5. Eat more small meals a day around 4-6 compared to 3 big meals. This allows your diaphragm to move frequently and freely and helps your lungs fill with air and empty out more easily without a completing full stomach
  6. If drinking liquids with meals makes you feel too full to eat, limit liquids with meals and instead drink liquids after meals
  7. Ask you doctor or nutritionist about adding a nutritional supplement at night time to avoid feeling full during the day
  8. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about drinking a high-protein, high-energy drink that can help boost nutrition if you are unable to tolerate high volumes of food
  9. Choose foods that are easy to prepare, try using a crock pot that cooks your food for you over a period of time
  10. Eat in a relaxed enviorment
  11. Eat socially with friends and family
  12. Take your breathing medications and/or clear your airways about 1 hour before eating
  13. Sit up straight while you are eating to relieve pressure on your lungs
  14. If you use supplemental oxygen, use it while you are eating. Eating and digestion require energy, which causes your body to use more oxygen
  15. Eat and chew slowly so you are less likely to become short of breath. Try putting your spoon or fork down between bites to slow your eating speed and don’t get out of breath


Setting goals and tracking your diet

Setting goals is a great way to get started on a new eating plan. One way you can do this is by tracking your progress, and developing goals based on what you have accomplished already. You can also develop goals based on what your and your nutritionist and/or doctor decide would be the best for you. (4)


You can set a variety of goals pertaining to your diet and weight and it's a great way to stay in check with what matters to you and getting healthier so you are better capable of managing your COPD.


Some goals you might try to set are:


  • Gaining or losing 5 pounds depending on your current weight
  • Adding more protein into your meals, and limiting your simple carbohydrates intake to once per week
  • Cooking more healthy foods rather than ordering take out
  • Buy a cookbook filled with healthy meals and trying a new recipe once per week


Once you have developed a few goals, the next step is to make an action plan, you can do this by asking yourself, “What steps do I need to accomplish to reach my goal?’” Then you can determine which step you will take first, and when.


Here is an example of how to set and make a plan for accomplishing goals:


How to Care for a Loved One With COPD


Tracking your health is a great way to monitor what you're eating and how the foods you eat influences your mood, symptoms, and energy. You can make a list of the meals you ate and next to each meal take a few notes about how you felt afterwards.


You can keep track of what food makes you feel bloated so you know to avoid that in the future, and keep track of the foods you enjoy that give you energy throughout the day.


We call this a respiratory health diary, and this tactic is very helpful for people with respiratory diseases, but anybody can benefit from tracking their health.




A health diary can help you with just about any aspect of how to manage your disease, including monitoring symptoms, keeping your prescriptions in line, and making healthy changes like reaching a healthy weight.


If you have a respiratory illness, your ability to set goals and reach them can have a huge impact on your quality of life and the course of your disease. Having a dedicated health tracking system to help you manage your well-being with aspects like diet, exercise, and disease management has a huge impact on your health and well-being and your quality of life over-all.




Having a respiratory illness is not easy, nor is changing your diet. But the truth is, even if you have the best portable oxygen concentrator in the world, the Caire Freestyle Comfort is not going to do all of the work you need to do in order to get your respiratory disease under control.


While having the right oxygen equipment is important and taking your medication is imperative, eating right is also essential in creating a high quality of life.


Eating right contributes to your mood and mental state, it gives you energy to exercise, and helps you to feel less bloated thereby making it easier for you to breathe. That being said, actually sticking to a diet that is right for you is easier said than done, but we hope one of the strategy and tactics we listed in this article can contribute to helping you get on a diet plan and stick to it!


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