How nutrition can affect your lung health

  • Nutrition can play a role in respiratory health
  • Those with lung diseases, such as COPD, are at a higher risk for Covid-19
  • Antioxidants, especially, can help combat oxidative stress in the lungs 

As Covid-19 is causing distress, sickness and death over the world, you might be wondering how healthy your lungs actually are.

There are several lifestyle factors that can impact our lung health – if you smoke, for example, you have a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. The environment and air quality can also impact our lung health.

Improved air quality, smoking cessation and regular exercise can all contribute to healthier lungs. But did you know that what you eat can also improve your respiratory health?

What diet has to do with the lungs

We know that food can affect our general health. But many people are surprised to know that the food they eat can affect their breathing. According to the American Lung Association, the right mix of nutrients can significantly improve your breathing, especially if you suffer from COPD.

The food we consume is converted to fuel through a process called metabolism. Both oxygen and food are the “raw materials” of metabolism – which are then converted into energy and carbon dioxide – a waste product that we exhale.

Some foods metabolise more carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used – carbohydrates for example. This is why some people with COPD or other lung conditions may benefit from a diet lower in carbohydrates.

What to eat for healthier lungs

A diet rich in antioxidants will contribute to the neutralisation of free radicals that can damage lung cells, leading to poor lung health or even cancer. Some experts believe that vitamins A C and E (also sometimes referred to as ACE antioxidants) can especially help combat oxidative stress in the lungs, especially in those who previously smoked.

However, each person’s condition is unique, and a registered dietitian who specialises in lung health should be able to advise you exactly what to include in your diet and if there is a need for any supplements.

Focus on a healthy, balanced diet consisting of the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, E, A and beta-carotene. Include red, yellow, orange, purple and green vegetables in your diet to ensure a wide variety of antioxidants.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as oily fish
  • Foods with anti-inflammatory properties such as garlic, ginger and turmeric
  • Water, as hydration decreases lung irritation and inflammation

Avoid these foods

People with COPD or other respiratory conditions are often advised to limit or eliminate the following foods, as they can trigger inflammation or flare-ups:

  • Acidic foods and drinks, which may increase acid reflux, causing lung symptoms 
  • Carbonated drinks, which can increase bloating and place more pressure on the lungs
  • Cured, processed meats such as bacon, sausages and ham. These are high in nitrates, which may increase the risk for more severe COPD.
  • Foods with excessive sodium, as this can cause you to retain water and cause breathing problems
  • Fried, greasy foods, which can lead to an unhealthy weight. This may raise cholesterol levels and place extra pressure on the lungs. It can also lead to acid reflux, which may worsen lung symptoms.

READ | Yes, you can still exercise with lung disease

READ | Overweight COPD patients at higher risk of Covid-19

READ | What to eat for a robust immune system 

Image credit: Vika Aleksandrova from Unsplash

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