Diet and nutrition

Long term conditions: Diet and nutrition

Healthy eating and your lungs

Food is the fuel your body needs for everything you do, including breathing. Eating healthily also helps the body fight infections. For people with COPD, chest infections can be dangerous. You can reduce your risk of getting an infection by eating well.

Essential nutrients

There are five nutrients that are essential for health and life: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.


  • Found in milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts and pulses, such as lentils and beans
  • The body uses proteins to repair damaged tissue.

If you get your protein from meat, remember to trim the fat off meat as too much fat is not good for you.


  • Found in bread, cereal, rice, pasta, fruit and potatoes
  • They are the easiest form of energy to digest
  • If they are high in fibre, such as fruit, they help with your bowel function and help lower your cholesterol.


  • Found in butter, margarine, olive oil, vegetable oil and nuts
  • They are a source of energy and vitamins A, D, E and K
  • They should be eaten in moderation as too much fat is not good for us.


  • Found in liver, eggs, meat, fish and dried fruits such as raisins
  • The mineral calcium (and vitamin D) is found in milk, cheese and other dairy products
  • Calcium and vitamin D help with healthy bones and teeth
  • Calcium is especially important for people who are on high amounts of steroid treatment
  • Foods high in iron, such as spinach and liver, are important for your blood.


  • A improves eyesight and helps fight infections - it's found in butter and many dark green vegetables
  • B is necessary for normal nerve function, good digestion, good appetite and healthy skin - found in wholegrain breads and cereals, meat, fish and dairy products
  • C is good for fighting infection - the best sources are citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), strawberries and broccoli
  • D helps with healthy bones and teeth and is found in milk and cheese
  • E is found in whole grain cereals
  • K regulates blood clotting - found in cauliflower, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, soya beans, meat and green tea.

Your ideal weight

If you are overweight, your heart and lungs have to work harder to supply oxygen to your body. Too much fat makes it more difficult for your lungs to work properly. Losing weight through diet and exercise will make breathing easier. If you are overweight, try eating smaller portions and increase the amount of exercise you do to encourage weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. Losing weight too quickly may not be good for you. 

Being underweight is not good for you either. You can feel weak and tired, and you may be more likely to develop a chest infection. It's important for you to eat enough calories to prevent muscle wasting or weakening. 

Talk to your nurse or GP to find out your ideal weight.

Loss of appetite

If you feel unwell, are producing lots of mucus or are feeling breathless, you may lose your appetite. It is important to try and eat as you will be more susceptible to a chest infection if you do not get the nutrients you need. 


  • Take your medicine with food unless advised otherwise, as this prevents an upset tummy
  • Vary the colours and textures of your food ( this will help your appetite)
  • Use colourful garnishes to brighten food and make it more appealing
  • Take regular exercise
  • Take advantage of meals available at local community centres, clubs and churches
  • Try high-energy drinks - they take less energy to digest.

Loss of muscle tone

If you are unwell you may take less exercise and your muscles may become weaker. Try to eat a well balanced diet. The following tips may help to keep your muscle tone up. 

  • Try to eat more high-protein foods, such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy products
  • Add grated cheese to vegetables, soups and casseroles
  • Use double-strength milk instead of water for cereals and milk puddings (double strength milk is one cup of whole milk with 1/3 cup of non-fat dry milk powder added)
  • Add a hardboiled egg to tuna and chicken for sandwiches/salads
  • Add non-fat dried milk to casseroles, custards and puddings.

Feeling bloated

Eating too much of some foods can make your stomach feel bloated. This makes it harder to breathe. 

  • Try eating more small meals a day, rather than two or three big ones
  • Avoid gas-forming foods like sprouts, cabbage, beans, beer and sweets
  • Eat slowly and in a relaxed atmosphere, if you can.

Keep hydrated

It's important to keep the secretions in your lungs thin and easy to cough up. If you don't drink enough, your secretions will be thick and sticky and will increase your chances of an infection.

Drinking enough liquids also helps with digesting food and avoiding constipation. Water is your best option. 

  • Drink at least 2.5 litres of liquid a day (juices, milk shakes, water)
  • When you have an infection or fever or during the hot weather, drink more.