Most people are surprised to learn that the food they eat may affect their breathing. Your body uses food as fuel for all of its activities. The right mix of nutrients in your diet can help you breathe easier. No single food will supply all the nutrients you need. A healthy diet has lots of variety. You and your healthcare team will work out a meal plan just for you. Meeting with a registered dietitian (RD)A trained expert in food and nutrition. will help you get on track. Find an RD who specializes in COPD by asking your doctor or visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at

Be sure to mention:

  • What foods you like
  • What foods you don't like and won't eat
  • Your daily schedule, including your exercise
  • Other health problems or special dietary needs you have

How Does Food Relate to Breathing?

The right mix of nutrients in your diet can help you breathe easier.

The process of changing food to fuel in the body is called metabolismA collection of chemical reactions that takes place in the body's cells that converts the fuel in food into energy.. Oxygen and food are the raw materials of the process, and energy and carbon dioxideA gas that is produced when people and animals breathe out or when certain fuels are burned. Is used by plants for energy. are the finished products. Carbon dioxide is a waste product and is exhaled.

Metabolism of carbohydrates produces the most carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used; metabolism of fat produces the least. For some people with COPD, eating a diet with less carbohydrates and more fat helps them to breathe easier.

Nutritional Guidelines

Checking your weight
Get in the habit of weighing yourself regularly. The scale will alert you to weight loss or gain. You should see your doctor or dietitian if you continue to lose weight or see a weight gain while following the recommended diet. There are health complications that can result from being underweight or overweight. A well-nourished body is better able to handle infections. When people with COPD get an infection, it can become serious quickly and result in hospitalization. Good nutrition can help prevent that from happening. If illness does occur, a well-nourished body can respond better to treatment.

Choose complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread and pasta, fresh fruit and vegetables.

  • To lose weight: Opt for fresh fruits and veggies over bread and pasta for the majority of your complex carbohydrates.
  • To gain weight: Eat a variety of whole-grain carbohydrates and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Limit simple carbohydrates, including table sugar, candy, cake and regular soft drinks.

Eat 20-30 grams of fiber each day, from items such as bread, pasta, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

Eat a good source of protein at least twice a day to help maintain strong respiratory muscles. For example, milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts and dried beans or peas.

  • To lose weight: Choose low-fat sources of protein such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products.
  • To gain weight: Choose protein with a higher fat content, such as whole milk, whole milk cheese and yogurt.

Choose mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, which do not contain cholesterol. These are fats that are often liquid at room temperature and come from plant sources, such as canola, safflower and corn oils.

  • To lose weight: Limit your intake of these fats.
  • To gain weight: Add these types of fats to your meals.

Limit foods that contain trans-fat and saturated fat. For example, butter, lard, fat and skin from meat, hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortening, fried foods, cookies, crackers and pastries.

Note: These are general nutritional guidelines for people living with COPD. Each person's needs are different, so talk to your doctor or RDN before you make changes to your diet.

What Else Is Important to Know about My Diet?

Diet Hints

Caregiver tip: offer to help your loved one with grocery shopping or cooking.
  • Choose foods that are easy to prepare. If you use all your energy to cook, you won't have enough left to eat.
  • Rest just before eating.
  • Eat more food early in the morning if you're usually too tired to eat later in the day.
  • Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating. They tend to make breathing more difficult.
  • Eat 4 to 6 small meals a day. This enables your diaphragm to move freely and lets your lungs fill with air and empty out more easily
  • If drinking liquids with meals makes you feel too full to eat, limit liquids with meals; drink an hour after meals.