Mealtime with COPD: Foods for Better Breathing

By  Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP

COPD is a common lung disease that makes breathing harder over time. COPD can develop slowly, and symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, excess mucus production and fatigue.  Symptoms continue to worsen and interfere with activities of daily living like walking, eating and caring for oneself. Healthful eating is critical to provide extra energy and lessen symptoms.

Food Fuels Breathing

To better understand why nutrition is so vital for elders with COPD, it’s helpful to understand how food fuels breathing. When we eat, food is converted into energy to fuel our body.  Carbohydrates are the main nutrient for energy, but too much simple carbs – from soda, sweets and processed foods – make breathing harder. The right nutrients in the right amounts is key.

 

 Carbohydrates are the main nutrient for energy, but too much simple carbs – from soda, sweets and processed foods – make breathing harder. The right nutrients in the right amounts is key.

 

Try these practical tips for improved nutrition at mealtimes:
 

✓   Serve complex carbohydrates for the right kind of energy.  Fill the plate with fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereal, pasta, brown rice
       and quinoa.

✓    Provide enough protein for brain function, repair and maintenance of the body’s tissue and immune support.  Good choices include lean meat,
       chicken, fish, eggs, soy and nuts.

✓   Soy, flax and oily fish are great sources of Omega-3s.  These essential fatty acids help minimize inflammation and reduce mucus production. They
       also support heart and brain health.

✓   Serve plenty of beverages to prevent dehydration and thin mucus.  Good choices are water, fruit or vegetable juice and decaffeinated coffee or tea. 
       Avoid sugary drinks and beverages with carbonation as they can cause bloating.  Caffeine can interfere with medication.

✓   Dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese may increase mucus and worsen congestion.  Try dairy alternatives like soy or almond milk for calcium and
       Vitamin D in the diet.

✓   Avoid foods high in sodium like processed foods and canned soup.  Excess salt makes the body retain fluid and puts extra pressure on the lungs.

Encourage Extra Calories

Elders with COPD are at a much greater risk of malnutrition and its serious consequence like falls, fractures and trips to the hospital. To reduce risk of malnutrition, encourage extra calories and nutrient dense foods.  Modify the texture of foods and moisten with a sauce or gravy to make chewing and swallowing less exhausting. Its best to get the needed nutrients without overeating. Try serving small meals and snacks more often to prevent an elder from feeling overfull or uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD, but symptoms can be managed and mealtimes can be improved,  Focus on key nutrients and calorie dense foods for increased energy and better breathing.

Sources:

Cleveland Clinic. Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD.  No Date. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9451-nutritional-guidelines-for-people-with-copd.

Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP, is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She is passionate about empowering caregivers to make positive nutritional changes and mealtime meaningful for those in their care.   She can be reached at chefbeth@caregiverskitchen.net.