Healthy eating is an essential part of any lung health program. As the largest organ in the body, the lungs require a lot of nutrients to function properly. Food For Lungs is a resource for information on lung health and nutrition, plus delicious recipes that promote healthy lungs.
Food For Lung
Why Food Matters
A healthy, well-balanced diet goes a long way to keep your body strong, including your lungs. In general, aim for a variety of foods from each food group to keep your lungs happy. (Hint: More plants and fewer processed foods are better for just about everyone.) To keep your lungs in tiptop shape, here are some examples of foods to enjoy and avoid or limit — along with not smoking and other lung-friendly habits.
Good: High-Fiber Foods
What do raspberries, peas, lentils, and black beans have in common? They’re all high in fiber, which is great for your lungs. Research suggests people who eat more fiber have lungs that work better than those who don’t eat much fiber. Other fiber-rich foods include whole-wheat spaghetti, baked beans, chia seeds, quinoa, pears, and broccoli.
Bad: Processed Meats
Studies show a link between processed, or cured, meats and worse lung function. Researchers think the nitrites used in processing and preserving cured meats may cause inflammation and stress to the lungs. Bacon, ham, deli meat, and sausage all fall into the category of processed meats.
Good news for coffee lovers: Your morning cup could be doing your lungs a favor. Research points to a connection between regular coffee and healthier lungs. This could be due to the caffeine, which is anti-inflammatory, and polyphenols, which are antioxidant and also anti-inflammatory.
Bad: Too Much Alcohol
Heavy drinking is bad for your liver and for your lungs. Sulfites in alcohol can worsen asthma symptoms, and ethanol affects your lung cells. If you drink too much, you’re more likely to get pneumonia and other lung problems. But a little bit is OK. Two drinks or less per day, especially if it’s wine, may be good for your lung health. Health experts don’t recommend anyone start drinking, though — and if you do drink, keep it moderate.
Good: Whole Grains
Whole grains are great for your lungs. They include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oats, quinoa, and barley. Not only are whole-grain foods high in fiber, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, but they’re full of vitamin E, selenium, and essential fatty acids, which are good for lung health. Refined grains, like white flour and white rice, lose many of their nutrients in the milling process.
Bad: Sugary Drinks
Do your lungs a favor and swap out soft drinks for water. A study found adults who drank more than five sweetened soft drinks a week were more likely to have ongoing bronchitis, and kids were more likely to have asthma. It’s not clear that the sodas were the reason why, but the pattern stood out. If you smoke, even unsweetened soft drinks can be bad for your lungs.
Red and blue fruits like blueberries and strawberries are rich in a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which gives them their color and is also a strong antioxidant. Research suggests this pigment can slow down your lungs’ natural decline as you age. In one study, older men who ate at least two servings of blueberries a week had notably less decline in lung function than those who ate fewer or no blueberries.
Bad: Too Much Salt
A little adds flavor, but a lot adds to your odds for lung problems. People who eat a lot of salt are more likely to have long-term bronchitis. And a high-sodium diet can worsen asthma symptoms, but you may be able to help your lungs work better if you go light on salt for a couple of weeks. Cook from scratch, and avoid restaurants and packaged foods. Read labels, and ask your doctor how much is too much. Limits are usually 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day.
Good: Leafy Green Vegetables
Load your plate with spinach, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens, and you could lower your chance of getting lung cancer. One study found that Chinese greens are particularly good for this purpose. This could be because they are high in carotenoids, which are antioxidant.
Good: Dairy Products
Research suggests drinking milk and eating cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products can lower your chances of dying from lung cancer. Unless you’re allergic to it, dairy is tied to anti-inflammatory properties. On the flip side, if you have asthma or another lung problem, going dairy-free may help cut down on your mucus production.
Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, which is linked to lung health. Eating tomatoes and tomato products like tomato juice can improve airway inflammation if you have asthma and may lower your chance of death if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lycopene is also tied to less decline in lung function for young adults. These benefits are even more pronounced for people who used to smoke.
Foods to Promote Lung Health
Lung disease is a common ailment that impacts millions of Americans, with more diagnosed each day. Whether you have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) like emphysema or bronchitis, have asthma or are navigating lung pain from a mesothelioma diagnosis, lung disease can be uncomfortable and impact your quality of life.
For mesothelioma patients — who may be experiencing lethargy or weakened muscles from treatment — nutrition is crucial. Though maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone, it is especially so for those diagnosed with COPD or mesothelioma cancer.
While exposure to asbestos or hereditary asthma might not be avoidable, you have the power over what foods you eat. Shying away from high-calorie, fried foods can help you maintain your overall health while easing symptoms of lung disease.
- Healthy FatsMonounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats don’t contain cholesterol and usually come from plant sources. These healthy fats can help manage blood pressure, reduce inflammation and improve your overall health, which can help you breathe easier.RECOMMENDED
- Olive oil
- ProteinsProteins help keep your body strong and can help your body produce immune system cells. You’ll want to eat a good source of protein at least twice per day to help strengthen your respiratory cells and make you stronger.RECOMMENDED
- Lean meats
- Complex CarbsComplex carbohydrates are high in fiber, which can help regulate the digestive system and blood sugar levels. You’ll want to limit simple carbohydrates such as table sugar and candy, which can cause obesity and hypertension. Instead, opt for complex carbs such as those found in some produce and whole-grain bread and pasta, which can help provide fiber and energy.RECOMMENDED
- Whole-grain bread
- Fresh produce
- Fresh ProduceFresh fruits and vegetables include minerals, vitamins and fiber that help keep your body healthy and in shape. However, some produce is better for your lung health than others. Opt for berries, pineapples and grapes over apples, apricots and peaches, which can cause bloating.RECOMMENDED
- Low-FODMAP fruits, including:
- Non-starchy vegetables, including:
- Low-FODMAP fruits, including:
- PotassiumPotassium can help reduce water retention, regulate blood pressure and improve digestion, so it’s important to have a healthy level of it to maintain good lung function. The most common source of potassium is bananas, but it’s also found in other produce items.RECOMMENDED
- Leafy greens
Foods to Promote Lung Health
These five foods have been shown to have a positive impact on lung health.
- ApplesDue to the presence of the antioxidant quercetin, apples have been proven to reduce lung decline and even reduce lung damage caused by smoking. Those who eat five or more apples per week were also at a reduced risk of developing COPD.
- BeetsBeetroot and beet greens have been shown to benefit lung function, relax blood pressure and optimize oxygen intake, all of which can help someone struggling to breathe. Beets are also packed with vitamins and nutrients that promote lung health, like magnesium and potassium.
- PumpkinPumpkins are rich in carotenoids, which are associated with higher lung function. Carotenoids also contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which promote overall health and comfort.
- TomatoesTomatoes are one of the richest vegetable sources of lycopene, a carotenoid that has been associated with improved lung function. Consuming tomatoes and tomato products has also been linked to reduced lung decline and airway inflammation.
- Leafy GreensLeafy greens such as bok choy, spinach and kale are a rich source of carotenoids, iron, potassium, calcium and vitamins. These nutrients have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can help reduce lung inflammation and promote overall health.
Food Types to Avoid if You Have Lung Disease
Avoiding these foods can help keep lung disease symptoms at bay.
- Salty FoodsSodium causes fluid retention, which can lead to shortness of breath in patients who have lung disease. And while the salt shaker is the most obvious source of sodium, the bulk of sodium intake is actually already in the food. To reduce sodium intake, cut back on salty seasonings and check the labels on the foods you buy to confirm they don’t contain more than 300 milligrams of salt per serving.To reduce salt intake: Opt for herbs and spices to season food and check food labels before purchasing.
- Dairy ProductsAs the body digests dairy products, a breakdown of milk digestion called casomorphin increases the amount of phlegm and mucus produced by the body. This can increase coughing, which can cause wheezing and pain in COPD patients.To reduce dairy intake: Trade lactose for milk alternatives such as almond, oat or soy milk.
- Processed MeatsCured meats and cold cuts contain nitrates, which companies often add to these products for color and to help extend shelf life. These nitrates, however, have been found to lead to an increase in COPD-related hospital readmissions.To reduce processed meat intake: Avoid deli meat or look for a “no nitrates added” label on the product.
- SodaDrinking soda can be harmful to those with lung disease in several ways. First, soda contains carbon dioxide to make it carbonated, which can cause gas and bloating that makes it harder to breathe. In addition, the high sugar content can increase inflammation and lead to weight gain, both of which can exacerbate COPD symptoms.To reduce soda intake: Try switching soda out with other noncarbonated, flavored beverages like tea, flavored water or natural juice.
- Fried FoodsFried foods such as french fries and onion rings contain unhealthy fats that can cause bloating and discomfort by pushing on the diaphragm. In addition to lung discomfort caused by bloating, fried foods over time can lead to higher cholesterol and weight gain. For people living with lung disease, these things can worsen symptoms.To reduce fried food intake: Avoid fast-food chains and drive-thru meals.
Lung-Damaging Foods to Avoid
These five foods have been proven to have negative effects on lung function.
- White BreadSimple carbohydrates such as white bread should be avoided, as it takes more work for the lungs to metabolize them. Switching out these simple carbs for whole-grain, complex carbohydrates can improve lung health.
- Potato ChipsPotato chips are filled with salt and saturated fat, two things that are detrimental to lung health. Trans and saturated fats harm your cardiovascular health and can raise blood pressure. The salt in chips can also increase water retention, making it harder to breathe.
- ChocolateFirst and foremost, chocolate contains caffeine, which can interfere with medication or increase heart rate. Chocolate is also high in sugar and low in nutrients, making it a generally bad choice for someone with lung disease.
- BeerIn general, alcohol can increase inflammation in the lungs. For those with poor lung health, beer is a bad choice specifically because it’s also carbonated and can cause bloating, which puts extra pressure on the lungs and can make it harder to breathe.
- Cold CutsThe nitrates in processed cold cuts have been linked to lung decline and worsening COPD symptoms. Lean meats like salmon and chicken are a better choice for those who want to eat meat.