Dietary Management in COPD
Healthy Living

Dietary Management in COPD

Mehvish Hamdare profile Authored by Mehvish Hamdare on 29 Jul 2014 - 10:49.

Several studies have demonstrated an association between poor nutrition and COPD, where weight loss and low body mass index (BMI) are associated with increased mortality.

Changes in nutritional status, such as weight loss and malnutrition, are very common complications in patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). These changes primarily affect the patients' quality of life and functional capacity.

Patients with acute respiratory failure from primary lung disease are often initially malnourished, or become malnourished secondary to increased metabolic demands or inadequate nutritional support. Malnutrition in these patients can be due to multiple factors including increase in resting energy expenditure, decreased food intake and the effects of certain drugs.

Hence, maintaining a healthy diet is important because: food fuels body activities, affects the body's ability to breathe, helps the body's immune response and metabolize medications properly.

The aims of nutritional management are:

  • Maintain or improve body weight
  • Reduce muscle wasting
  • Meet daily recommended requirements of all nutrients
  • To improve or maintain respiratory function.

Importance of Proper Nutrition in COPD

Good nutrition helps the body fight infections. Chest infections are illnesses that often lead to hospitalization for people with COPD, so it is important to reduce your risk of infection by following a healthy diet. Proper nutrition can help reduce carbon dioxide levels and improve breathing.

Foods contain three major sources of energy: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. After metabolism, carbohydrate, fat, and protein are all converted to carbon dioxide and water in the presence of oxygen. The respiratory quotient (RQ) which is defined as the ratio of carbon dioxide produced to oxygen consumed, for carbohydrate is 1, fat is 0.7 and protein is 0.8. This means that eating carbohydrates will yield the most carbon dioxide, while eating fats will yield the least carbon dioxide. Hence eating a diet with less carbohydrates and more fat is advisable.

It is recommended that COPD patients must eat small, frequent meals, which can reduce shortness of breath, and also reduce reflux.  Eating slowly, breathing evenly, chewing well and resting are important. In the case where patients use oxygen, they are advised to wear their cannula during and after eating so that digestive muscles have the oxygen they need to digest food.

Dietary guidelines for COPD

  • Increase fiber intake: Good sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Limit salt intake, consuming excess salt can cause the body to retain water and can make breathing more difficult.
  • Eat nutritious diet necessary for a healthy respiratory system. According to the University of Maryland Medical Centre, low levels of certain nutrients have been linked to lung diseases. It recommends eating foods rich in vitamins A, C and E and the minerals zinc, potassium, selenium, magnesium and zinc.
  • Eat small frequent meals, this enables your diaphragm to move freely and lets your lungs fill with air and empty out more easily.
  • Avoid gas-producing foods such as carbonated beverages, fried, spicy foods, broccoli, legumes, brussels sprouts, cabbage, peppers and cauliflower as a full abdomen can make breathing uncomfortable.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Eat slowly, take small bites and chew your food (choose soft foods) thoroughly to avoid swallowing air while eating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and try drinking liquids at the end of your meal. Drinking before or during the meal might make you feel full or bloated.
  • Include protein in your diet as proteins are the building blocks of the body. Protein helps to keep muscles strong, including the muscles in your chest to help your ribs expand for breathing. Good protein sources like milk and milk products, pulses, legumes, fresh fish and lean chicken and eggs can be included in the diet
  • Avoid simple sugars, starches like potato, sago, sweet potato, yam and refined cereals like maida, bakery products, fried items, packaged items, ready to eat products, red meats etc.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking
  • Include nuts like walnut and almond in the diet. (Eat cautiously  and  slowly)
  • Eat calcium and vitamin D-rich foods to support bone health.
  • Limit your exposure to common allergens.
  • Talk to your doctor about using supplements that might promote lung health.
  • Exercise regularly: Always check with your doctor before beginning exercise.


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.