Basic Nutritional Guidelines for the Best COPD Diet

How Can a Healthy Diet Help Treat Those With COPD?

Woman selecting tomatoes
Betsie Van Der Meer

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become narrowed. There is a special diet specifically for those diagnosed with COPD that will help with symptoms unique to people with the disease. The mantra "you are what you eat" has never been more important as it is when you're planning a COPD diet. Why?

COPD and Shortness of Breath

One of the most frightening aspects of the disease is dyspnea, or shortness of breath.

When dyspnea starts to interfere with completing a meal, it can lead to weight loss and malnutrition, a common complication of COPD. Prolonged malnutrition is associated with a decrease in survival among COPD patients. Following a healthy COPD diet, therefore, plays an important role in the treatment of your disease.

Do People With COPD Need More Calories?

Some people with COPD have a higher energy requirement than others. In fact, according to the American Lung Association, some COPD patients require 10 times as many calories to breathe than a healthy person. To find out how many calories you need to maintain, lose or gain weight, talk to your health care provider or dietitian. Depending on the severity of your shortness of breath, the length of time you've been diagnosed and your body mass index, you may have different caloric needs than you once did.

Can a Healthy Diet Cure Me?

Although a healthy diet cannot cure COPD, it can help you feel better and give you more energy for all of your daily activities, including breathing.

Eating right can also help you fight chest infections, which are common among patients with COPD.

The Great 8: Basic Nutritional Guidelines for COPD Sufferers

Here are some basic nutritional guidelines that will support your body if you have been diagnosed with COPD or another chronic lung disease:

1. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

If you are overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder to breathe. In contrast, if you are underweight, you may feel weak and tired and be more susceptible to infection. Chest infections can make it more difficult to breathe and lead to COPD exacerbation.

2. Monitor Your Body Weight

Weighing yourself at least once a week will help you keep your weight under control. If you are taking diuretics or steroids, however, your doctor may recommend daily weigh-ins. If you have a weight gain or loss of 2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week, you should contact your doctor.

3. Drink Plenty of Fluids

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should drink 6 to 8, eight-ounce glasses of non-caffeinated beverages daily. This helps to keep your mucus thin, making it easier for your body to cough it up. Some people find it easier to fill a container full of their daily fluid requirement in the morning and spread it out during the day. If you try this method, it is best to slow down your intake of fluids towards evening so you are not up all night urinating.

4. Decrease Sodium Intake

Eating too much salt causes your body to retain fluid. Too much fluid can make breathing more difficult. To reduce sodium intake, don't add salt when you cook and make sure you read all food labels. If the sodium content in food is greater than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, don't eat it. If you are thinking of using salt substitutes, make sure you check with your doctor first, as some ingredients in them may be just as harmful as salt.

5. Wear Your Oxygen Cannula While Eating

If your doctor has prescribed continuous oxygen therapy for you, make sure you wear your cannula when you eat. Since your body requires extra energy to eat and digest food, you will need the additional oxygen.

6. Avoid Overeating and Foods that Cause Gas

When you overeat, your stomach can feel bloated making breathing more difficult. Carbonated beverages or gas-producing foods such as beans, cauliflower or cabbage can also cause bloating. Eliminating these types of beverages and foods will ultimately allow for easier breathing.

7. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals that Are High in Calories

If you are underweight, eating smaller, more frequent meals that are higher in calories can help you meet your caloric needs more efficiently. This can also help you feel less full making it easier to breathe. Avoid low-fat or low-calorie food products. Supplement your meals with high-calorie snacks like pudding or crackers with peanut butter.

8. Include Enough Fiber in Your Diet

High fiber foods such as vegetables, dried legumes, bran, whole grains, rice, cereals, pasta and fresh fruit aid in digestion by helping your food move more easily through your digestive tract. Your daily fiber requirement should be between 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day.

A Last Word About Nutrition

Food gives your body the fuel that it needs for energy. Your body requires energy for everything that you do, including breathing and eating. If you are having difficulty breathing while eating, try these 13 Dietary Tips for Better Breathing. Additionally, try adding COPD Super Foods to your diet, which are believed to have a profound impact on COPD.

For more information on dietary guidelines and COPD, be sure to check with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian.


American Lung Association. Eating Well with COPD. Updated 2007.

Cleveland Clinic Health System. Nutritional Guidelines for People With COPD. Updated 2005.

Continue Reading