9 eating tips for COPD patients

Diet affects the ability to breathe and influences the health of the lungs. People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can improve their situation with a suitable diet.

Written and verified by the nutritionist Anna Vilarrasa on October 08, 2021.

Last update: 08 October, 2021

Feeding in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can present some complications, since shortness of breath often leads to problems shopping, cooking, and even eating. For this reason, it is sometimes difficult to follow a proper diet.

However, there are some guidelines and eating tips for COPD patients that allow a healthy pattern to be followed and allow for a better quality of life. If you want to know and put them into practice, we invite you to continue reading this article.

The importance of diet in COPD patients

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung disease that causes shortness of breath. It includes both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

The airways become inflamed and the flow of air in and out of the lungs decreases. For this reason, less oxygen enters the tissues and it is more difficult to eliminate the carbon dioxide that is generated as waste.

It is a chronic problem that can be prevented in some cases and treated. At the dietary level, there is no eating plan that can cure the disease. However, diet is important, as a suitable combination of nutrients can help you breathe more easily.

Thanks to the proper eating pattern, better function and less spoilage can be achieved. Likewise, it is essential to avoid the loss of weight and lean mass that usually appears in advanced stages.

Dietary advice for COPD patients

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may find specific nutrients and foods good allies to help them feel better. There are general guidelines that can be applied as a basis for many patients, but It is advisable to consult with the specialist and find a suitable plan for each one.

Here are some of the tips on which dietary guidelines, foods, and nutrients are best and which ones are best to avoid in this situation.

1. Eat little and often

It is known that energy requirements are usually increased in COPD, since caloric expenditure at rest is higher than usual. However, eating difficulties often occur, either due to mood, dyspnea, or loss of appetite.

For this reason, it may be convenient to eat 4 to 6 meals a day with a reduced content. On the one hand, this requires less effort and favors digestion, while less gastric filling reduces pressure on the lungs and makes breathing easier.

The reduction in the quality of life of these patients can be manifested in the alteration of eating patterns.

2. Give priority to the most nutritious foods

As a result of this same situation (lack of appetite and high requirements), it is necessary to choose foods with a high nutritional quality and that provide energy. In the same way, avoid superfluous ones, such as fruit juices, energy drinks, sweets, pastries or salty snacks.

3. Breakfast: one of the key meals in the diet for patients with COPD

Energy levels are much higher in the early hours of the morning and strength ebbs throughout the day. So it is preferable to concentrate the highest intakes at breakfast and the food. Protein, fat, and whole carbohydrate sources such as fish, eggs, meat, oil, whole grains, nuts, yogurts, and fruits should be accommodated.

In addition, it is interesting to prepare the snack and dinner in advance. Even cook in larger quantities and always have frozen dishes. It is also preferable to ask family and friends for help if at night the forces decrease a lot.

4. Eat a diet high in fat and protein.

Of all the macronutrients, lipids produce the least amount of carbon dioxide per oxygen used after metabolism. For this reason, patients may benefit from a diet that is lower in carbohydrates and higher in fat.

To carry it out, it is advisable to give priority to unsaturated fats, like those of olive oil, blue fish, nuts, avocado and eggs. In the same way, it is necessary to avoid hydrogenated fats (industrial pastries, ready meals, snacks) and all processed meat products.

Proteins are essential to help maintain muscle mass, including the chest muscles, involved in breathing. In addition, they contribute to an optimal functioning of the immune system.

5. Eat foods with potassium and watch your salt intake

Potassium is important in the diet of patients with COPD, since a deficiency of this mineral can cause respiratory difficulties due to a decrease in the capacity of the muscles.

So it is interesting to introduce foods with potassium in the diet such as avocado, green leafy vegetables, asparagus, beets, potatoes, bananas and oranges.

Conversely, the presence of sodium must be controlled. Eating too much salt leads the body to fluid retention and this impairs breathing. Some tricks to maintain all the flavor of the dishes are to enhance the use of herbs and spices and dress with a good extra virgin olive oil.

6. Fruits and vegetables

These two large food groups are necessary, along with whole grains as a source of dietary fiber. As an article in the European Respiratory Journal, a higher fiber intake has been linked to a lower risk of COPD.

Additionally, fruits and vegetables provide antioxidant compounds that have been positively associated with better lung function in the entire general population. Specifically, the studies focus on vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and selenium.

7. Ensure proper hydration

Drinking plenty of water during the day is necessary to keep mucus fluid and make it easier to pass. In addition, it may be preferable to eat it at the end of meals or between meals, since otherwise it may produce a feeling of early satiety.

8. Avoid flatulent foods

Excess gas in the abdomen can make breathing difficult and uncomfortable. For this reason, it is necessary to control and eliminate foods that cause bloating and flatulence from the diet.

Those that tend to cause problems of this type more frequently are the following:

  • Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, leek, broccoli, or onion.
  • Vegetables.
  • Fried foods, very fatty or highly seasoned.
  • Apples, melons and avocados.
  • Carbonated drinks.

9. Simple and tasty cooking techniques

As already mentioned, the preparation and timing of the meal itself can be complicated in COPD patients. For this reason, the task of cooking should be simple and easy-to-eat dishes.

Cooking with plenty of herbs, spices, olive oil, and light sauces improves the flavor and digestibility of recipes. In addition, introducing varied and colored foods makes the food more attractive and appetizing.

Too It can be of great help to use already cut vegetables or cooked foods, like rice and legumes. Another good option is to cook larger quantities and thus always have frozen dishes ready.

Having meals prepared in advance can make the task easier for COPD patients.

The benefits of a healthy diet in COPD patients

In the therapeutic approach to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, medical treatment, physical exercise and diet come into play. Following these dietary tips provides a series of very interesting benefits:

  • Maintain an adequate weight: being overweight is considered a risk factor for COPD and puts a strain on the lungs and heart.
  • Strengthen the immune system: This is important, because when the disease occurs, any cold or respiratory infection can exacerbate COPD.
  • Provide the necessary energy to carry out daily activities: This is essential to prevent weight loss, muscle wasting, and skeletal muscle dysfunction.
  • Protect from the inflammatory state and oxidative stress: that are characteristic of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Diet is one of the most important factors to consider in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This can improve the quality of life of those affected.

There is no single dietary pattern for this situation, but a series of tips that facilitate the process and allow the provision of all the necessary nutrients. Based on existing scientific studies, so far the most recommended diet is characterized by a high consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, vegetable oils, fish and whole grains.

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