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13 Dietary Tips for Better Breathing With COPD

Improving COPD Breathing With Dietary Modifications

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Updated July 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Breathing, for most people, requires very little effort or conscious thought. This is generally not the case for many people with COPD, who must focus excessively on their breathing just to take a simple breath.

Proper nutrition helps give you more energy, which may, in turn, improve your breathing. The only problem is, dyspnea and other symptoms of COPD often interfere with eating, leaving you frustrated, energy-depleted and malnourished.

To help you get the nutrition you need, check out these 13 diet tips for better breathing. While rigorous scientific research hasn't yet proven the benefits of all these strategies, there's little to no downside in following them, and they may be helpful.

1. Clear Your Airways Before You Eat

Effective airway clearance is an important part of COPD management and can be especially beneficial before meals. When done on a regular basis, airway clearance techniques can help you breathe better and prevent lung infection that can lead to COPD exacerbation. Practice these simple techniques before meals to keep you from becoming too breathless to complete them.

2. Eat When You Have the Most Energy

Energy conservation is an important concept for people with COPD, especially when it comes to better breathing. When you are physically exhausted, your energy levels are likely to be at their lowest, which means you may not have enough energy to finish a meal. To get the greatest benefit from a nutritional standpoint, try eating your meals when you have the most energy, either when you wake up in the morning or after taking a nap.

3. Slow Your Eating Down

According to About.com's Longevity Guide, the average meal in America is only 11 minutes long -- with some folks eating their breakfast and lunch in less than 2 minutes. Eating too fast not only interferes with your digestion and causes you to eat more than you should, but it can drain you of essential energy that will make breathing during meals that much more difficult. The next time you sit down to eat, try making your meal last at least 20 minutes. Over time, you are sure to notice the difference, particularly in your breathing.

4. Choose Foods That Are Easy to Chew and Swallow

Foods that are hard to chew are also difficult to swallow. This puts you at greater risk for choking, aspiration pneumonia, and even death. Excess chewing can also zap your energy levels during meals, making it impossible for you to finish eating. By filling your shopping cart with foods that are easy to chew and swallow, you are likely to find it easier to eat.

5. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals; If Too Thin, Make Them High In Calories

Did you know that many professional body-builders eat six to eight small meals a day? They know something that many of us don't -- that the key to maintaining a high metabolism is to eat smaller, more frequent meals. In addition, because some people with COPD are too thin or malnourished, it's best to choose foods that are high in calories to keep your energy levels soaring, which will positively impact your breathing.

6. Give Your Salt Shaker a Break

While a low-sodium diet isn't specifically recommended for people who have COPD alone, it may be recommended if you have or are at risk for other health problems, as many people with COPD are (oftentimes due to a history of smoking). The problem with excess salt for some folks with COPD is that it can cause fluid retention and weight gain, often leading to worsening dyspnea. Try the following tips to reduce your sodium intake and improve your overall health:

7. Maintain Proper Posture During Meals

Remember when your mother told you to sit up straight? Maybe she was on to something. Proper posture, especially during meal times, will benefit your breathing by keeping excess pressure off your diaphragm, the major muscle of respiration. About.com's Ergonomics Guide recommends keeping your posture dynamic and strong for good ergonomics. Check out the following good posture tips:

8. Wear Your Oxygen Cannula When You Eat

People with COPD often require extra energy to eat and digest food. If you normally use continuous oxygen therapy, wearing your oxygen cannula during meals will help you achieve just that. Supplemental oxygen also has other benefits, including improving sleep, mood, mental alertness and stamina, and it allows you to carry out normal, everyday functions like eating.

9. Avoid Overeating and Foods That Cause Gas

They don't call beans the musical fruit for nothing! When you eat too much or eat foods that cause gas, your stomach becomes bloated, leaving little room for your lungs to expand during breathing. Cutting back on gas-producing foods will help you relieve the discomfort of bloating and help improve your breathing while you eat.

10. Save Fluids For the End of Your Meal

When you drink too much during meals, you have a tendency to become fuller more quickly and overly- bloated. This not only causes you to eat less, but causes difficulty breathing, as well. Try waiting until the end of your meal to drink fluids. If you need to drink something to help food go down easier, sip on a little water instead of filling up on an entire glass.
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