Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is swiftly becoming the third leading cause of mortality worldwide. It arises from environmental factors such as smoking and pollution, in addition to genetic conditions, causing persistent inflammation in the lungs. Common symptoms of this epidemic include labored breathing, excess mucus, electrolyte disturbances, and undernutrition. Research is confirming the impact of dietary choices on the progression of this illness. Some foods can exacerbate symptoms, while others can help people with COPD meet increased energy requirements, fight infections and inflammation, and normalize weight.

Soft Drinks: Hard on COPD

Regular and diet sodas may increase COPD symptoms. The authors of one study suggested that drinking sweetened carbonated beverages can lead to obesity, a major risk factor for COPD. Other research reported that high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks may promote lung disease due to fructose malabsorption and reactivity in the gastrointestinal tract. Sodas and sparkling waters, juices, and wine can induce gas and bloating.

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Reduce Gassy Veggies

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts are rich sources of vitamin and fiber, but the fiber causes digestive upset in some individuals, allowing excess gas to build up and leading to bloating, which places pressure on the lungs and worsens shortness of breath. COPD experts recommend limiting these foods to avoid discomfort.

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Say No to GERD Triggers

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called heartburn and acid reflux, affects one in four people, and many of them also deal with COPD. GERD can exacerbate COPD symptoms, and COPD heightens the risk of developing GERD. Fried foods can worsen respiratory symptoms. You may also want to avoid cooked tomato products, citrus fruit, and fruit juices to help alleviate both conditions.

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Slack Up on Sulfites

Sulfites are common additives that help enhance the appearance and shelf life of foods and drinks. These compounds trigger constriction of the bronchial tubes in people with respiratory ailments. The preservatives also cause systemic inflammation in some individuals with COPD. Check labels on these products to minimize exposure to sulfites:

  • Shrimp
  • Dried fruits and vegetables
  • Bottled lemon and lime juices
  • Certain medications

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Turn Down Alcohol

A cohort study reported that moderate alcohol consumption may lower the risk of COPD. However, ingesting high amounts of alcohol hinders the lungs' ability to expel mucus over time. Even small quantities from beer, wine, and liquor can diminish the effectiveness of some antibiotics and COPD medications, including glucocorticoids. Alcohol can also slow down breathing to a dangerous, possibly lethal, level.

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An Apple a Day May Keep COPD at Bay

Researchers have observed a positive association between eating more hard fruits such as apples and pulmonary function. A Johns Hopkins study found that diets rich in fresh fruit, especially apples, can slow the natural decline of lung function in former smokers. This food contains fat-soluble antioxidants such as zeaxanthin, lutein, and provitamin A carotenoids, which are known to improve lung health.

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Caffeine Can Help with COPD

Some research suggests that caffeine may enhance lung function in non-smokers and former smokers. Caffeine exerts anti-inflammatory effects that mitigate COPD exacerbations, although smoking appears to build up resistance to these effects. The chemical makeup is similar to theophylline, a common COPD medication for breathing difficulty. Caffeine affects individuals differently. It is a stimulant that can help increase alertness and exercise performance. However, too much can cause jitters and insomnia. Consult a physician about any concerns regarding caffeine consumption.

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Pack In the Potassium

Electrolyte imbalance is a common issue for people with COPD. Researchers note that these individuals are typically yulka3ice / Getty Images


Fill Your Diet with Fatty Fish

Many people with COPD have a protein deficiency that can lead to muscle loss, which leaves them with an increased need for lean proteins and healthy fats that provide energy and help maintain muscle integrity. Sardines, salmon, mackerel, and tuna are delicious options. Seafood is also the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids, another nutrient of special benefit to those with COPD. University of Rochester researchers discovered that after consumption, omega-3s break down into compounds that switch off pro-inflammatory signals and promote the death of inflammatory cells in lung tissue following cigarette smoking. (Though promising, these findings were in laboratory and animal models.) Many studies note that higher consumption of these polyunsaturated fats correlates to improved lung function.

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Keep Hydration High

Adequate water intake is crucial for hydration and managing COPD. People with COPD tend to produce excessive mucus that is viscous and difficult to cough up. Drinking enough water helps thin the mucus, making it easier to clear out from the lungs. Water consumption also helps fight infections and eases symptoms of nasal dryness from oxygen therapy. The Lung Institute recommends eight to 12 glasses daily, spread out over the day. Other healthy fluids can count toward this goal as well, including broth soups, coconut water, and herbal teas. Many foods, such as melons, cucumbers, and spinach, deliver both extra hydration and important nutrients.

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