Eat to Breathe

How food choices can improve your symptoms

Photo: A setting of calcium-rich foods: glass of milk, yogurt, almonds, broccoli, cheese.

The foods you eat play a role in how well you breathe. Take a look at how good nutrition and getting the right amount of calories each day can help you feel good.

Calories count. Breathing requires energy. Energy requires calories. When the lungs are weakened, as with COPD, the breathing muscles may need up to 10 times more calories than those of your peers who don't have COPD. Shortchanging yourself at mealtimes can put you at risk of becoming underweight, which can leave you feeling weak and tired. At the other end of the scale, being overweight can push your heart and lungs into overdrive as they deliver oxygen and nutrients. Talk to your doctor about any weight concerns.

Nutrients you need. Filling your plate with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins is the best way to cover all your nutritional bases. If you feel too tired to finish a full meal, supplements can help fill in the gaps. Ask your doctor which ones are best for you, since many can interfere with medications.

Keep an eye on carbs. The body uses oxygen to break down food into fuel. In the process, the body gives off carbon dioxide as a waste product during breathing. More carbon dioxide is created when the body breaks down carbohydrates as opposed to fats. Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you find the right balance of carbs and fats to make it easier for you to breathe.

The bloat factor. Eating big meals does more than leave you feeling sluggish—it can make it harder to breathe. A full stomach doesn't give your lungs much room to expand. Some people with COPD find it helpful to eat five or six smaller meals each day. You may also want to go easy on foods that give you gas or make you feel too full.

CALCIUM
Calcium is a nutrient you'll want ensure you get enough of. That's because COPD is linked to bone loss. You can find calcium in dairy, almonds, and even spinach and kale.