Skip to Content

Nutrition Guidelines For People With Copd


What you need to know about nutrition and COPD:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increases your risk for malnutrition. Malnutrition occurs when you do not get enough calories or nutrients to keep you healthy. Nutrients include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Malnutrition can increase your risk for lung infections and other health problems.

How COPD increases your risk for malnutrition:

You may have increased calorie needs because COPD causes your body to work harder to breathe. COPD also causes symptoms that can make it hard for you to eat enough healthy foods. These symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, chest discomfort, and fatigue. You may have not have enough energy to shop and prepare meals. You may feel breathless while eating, have trouble swallowing, feel full quickly, or feel bloated.

Healthy eating plan:

  • Eat a variety of vegetables such as dark green, red, and orange vegetables. You can also include canned vegetables low in sodium (salt) and frozen vegetables. Limit vegetables that cause gas or make you feel bloated.
  • Eat a variety of fresh fruits , canned fruit in 100% juice, frozen fruit, and dried fruit.
  • Include whole grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. Examples include whole wheat bread, wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grain cereals such as oatmeal.
  • Eat a variety of protein foods such as seafood (fish and shellfish), meat, and poultry without skin (turkey and chicken). Other protein foods include eggs and egg substitutes, beans, peas, soy products (such as tofu), nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy products each day. Examples include milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Drink liquids as directed. This will help to keep your mucus thin and easier to cough up. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Limit sodium (salt). Eating too much salt may cause your body to retain (hold) water. This can make it harder to breathe. Limit foods high in salt such as snack or packaged foods, and cured or smoked meats (hot dogs and sausage). Other foods high in sodium include frozen meals, canned vegetables, and condiments (mustard, soy sauce, and pickles). Use less table salt.

Eating tips to follow during an exacerbation:

An exacerbation of COPD is when your symptoms get much worse very quickly. Exacerbations can be triggered by infections such as a cold or the flu. Lung irritants such as air pollution, dust, fumes, or smoke can also trigger an exacerbation. It may be even more difficult to eat enough nutrients during an exacerbation. You may lose weight during this time. Below are some eating tips that may help:

  • Eat small meals frequently throughout the day. You may be able to eat more healthy foods if you eat 5 to 6 small meals instead of large meals. This will prevent you from getting full too quickly. Feeling too full after meals can cause shortness of breath. Eat slowly and chew your foods well.
  • Choose soft foods that are easy to chew. Examples include soups, scrambled eggs, pasta, pudding, cooked fruits and vegetables, yogurt, and moist, tender meat.
  • Drink liquids with extra nutrients such as milk shakes made with whole milk and protein powder added to them. Drink these liquids between meals. You may get full too quickly if you drink liquids with meals. Ask your healthcare provider if you should take nutrition supplements.

Eating tips to follow after an exacerbation:

You may need extra calories and nutrients if you lost weight during an exacerbation. Below are some eating tips that may help you regain weight:

  • Eat small meals frequently throughout the day. You may be able to eat more healthy foods if you eat 5 to 6 small meals instead of large meals. Drink liquids with extra nutrients, such as milk shakes, between meals.
  • Add extra protein to foods by adding cheese to soups, mashed potatoes, or omelets. Add milk powder, protein powder, or evaporated milk to cereals and desserts.
  • Add extra calories to foods by adding butter, margarine, sugar, or jam to foods. Work with your dietitian if you have other medical conditions and need to follow a special diet.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You are losing weight without trying.
  • You have trouble swallowing.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.