Nutrition and Managing Your COPD

Good nutrition is a must for keeping COPD in check. But the shortness of breath that often accompanies COPD can sometimes interfere with your body's ability to get the right nutrients. Follow these tips for better eating to help manage COPD.

Vegetable displays in a grocery store.

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Why You're Having Trouble Eating

Because the stomach lies directly beneath the diaphragm, having a full stomach can make it more difficult to breathe, especially for those with COPD. Shortness of breath while eating is one of the reasons why people with COPD often suffer from malnutrition, a common complication of COPD

Eat Healthy With the Basic Food Groups

Like anyone else, people with COPD can benefit from a balanced diet that includes foods from all of the basic food groups. If possible, be sure to include the following in your daily diet:

  • Protein helps to build muscle mass and maintain growth and repair of cells and tissues. Foods from this group include meats, soy products, nuts, seeds, and legumes, like black beans or lentils.
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, cream, and yogurt are rich in calcium to keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. They are a good source of protein too.
  • Fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to maintain wellness. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is recommended for optimal health and disease prevention.
  • Breads and starches contain complex carbohydrates that help our bodies sustain energy. Whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or grits are also high in fiber.
  • Fats are a necessary part of any healthy diet when used in moderation). Monounsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and canola oil, and polyunsaturated fats, such as corn and sunflower oil, are better for you than saturated fats, which are found in lard, hard margarine, cheese, bakery goods, and animal meats.
  • Water helps keep you hydrated and assist in thinning out mucus. Drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

Additionally, learn about COPD super foods and include them on your shopping list for maximum health benefit.

What About Vitamins and Other Supplements?

In a perfect world, we would get all the vitamins and minerals we need from the foods we eat. When your diet is somehow lacking in nutrients, however, this isn't possible. If you have COPD, taking a multivitamin every day may be recommended to help you get the nutrients that you aren't getting from your diet. And, because COPD sometimes leaves you feeling too tired to eat, drinking a meal supplement can support your nutritional status without causing you to feel too full.

Why Your Weight Is Important

When you are underweight, your energy level can suffer dramatically. This can make it more difficult to complete activities of daily living and leave you more susceptible to infection and COPD exacerbation. On the contrary, being overweight can also negatively impact COPD, as it can increase your shortness of breath and lead to obesity. The best thing for anyone who has COPD is to maintain a healthy body weight, which can be determined by your doctor. Weighing yourself on a regular basis can help you accomplish this. Try these tips for weighing yourself:

  • Weigh yourself at the same time every morning before eating and after using the bathroom. Try to wear the same weight clothing each time you weigh yourself, or step on the scale before getting dressed.
  • Keep track of your weight on a separate piece of paper that is kept on the wall or near the scale. Doing this can help you see possible fluctuations in your weight over time.
  • Call your doctor if you notice that you are either steadily losing weight without trying to do so, or if you gain three to five pounds in one week or less.

By following these tips, you can get the proper nutrition you need to keep COPD exacerbations at bay.

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  • Living Well with Chronic Lung Disease: A Guide to Pulmonary Rehabilitation. The StayWell Company. 2005.