Diagnosis and Evaluation of COPD
The Best Diet for COPD Patients
A healthy diet can play an important role in the management and treatment of COPD.
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) requires a number of adjustments to help conserve energy and optimize lung function. Eating well and and maintaining a healthy weight will help you keep COPD symptoms in check — and feel better overall. Here are some tips that will help you eat well and stay in shape.
COPD: The Impact of Body Weight
For COPD patients, maintaining a healthy weight is important for controlling symptoms.
"If you're overweight, you have to carry more of your weight around, making you feel more short of breath," says Barry Make, MD, co-director of the COPD program at National Jewish Health in Denver and a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine. Having more weight to carry around not only increases shortness of breath, which is one of the primary symptoms of COPD, it also boosts your risk for heart disease and diabetes, chronic deseases that can undermine your COPD management efforts.
With that said, it’s even more crucial for COPD patients not to be underweight. "Being overweight is bad, but being underweight is probably even worse in COPD patients," says Dr. Make. "A lot of COPD patients want to lose weight, but we tell them not to lose too much." According to Make, losing too much weight when you have COPD is associated with a poorer prognosis, or worse long-term outlook. In addition, not weighing enough can zap your energy, making it difficult to adhere to your COPD management plan.
COPD: Nutrition Tips
Talk with your COPD medical team about the nutrition plan that is best for you. They may recommend that you see a nutritionist, who can work with you to develop a meal plan to best meet your needs and monitor your progress along the way.
In general, people who have COPD should consider the following to maintain an optimal weight:
- Monitor calories:The American Lung Association recommends that people with COPD keep close tabs on their weight. If you are overweight, you can lose weight by eating fewer calories. But don't eat so few calories that you feel fatigued and hungry all of the time. If you need to focus on maintaining or increasing your body weight, talk with your medical team or nutritionist about the foods you should be eating to keep the weight on.
- Avoid fad diets:"Fad diets are not appropriate for COPD patients," says Make. People with COPD appear to fare best with a varied diet that provides a good balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, according to research published in August 2014 in theInternational Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This helps ensure that you're getting vitamins such as C, E, and D, which are among those tied to better outocomes with COPD.
- Focus on protein:Work with your medical team or nutritionist to determine the amount of protein you need. "A lot of people do not get enough protein in their diet," says Make. He adds that protein is particularly important for COPD patients who are exercising as part of their pulmonary rehabilitation plan. The ALA recommends milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, and beans as good protein sources.
- Watch your portions:"We tell our COPD patients to eat small meals frequently, rather than large meals," says Make. Eating several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three large meals can help lessen shortness of breath.
- Get balanced:Focus on consuming fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Limit salt:Consuming excessive sodium can lead to fluid retention, which can worsen your shortness of breath.
- Remember your oxygen:If your medical team recommends it, use supplemental oxygen during and after meals to reduce shortness of breath when eating.
A healthy diet is an important part of a COPD treatment plan. Eating the right foods can help manage your symptoms, make you feel better overall, increase your energy level, and give your body the fuel it needs to fight infection. It takes energy to breathe when you have COPD, so feed your body well.
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