Foods for COPD

Dear Dr. Mahler:

Two years ago I was diagnosed with COPD and turned the page on 20 years of smoking and an unhealthy life style. Now, I am trying to do everything that I can to lead a healthy life and try to prevent my condition from getting worse. What is your advice on foods to eat and foods to avoid?


Gloria from Erie, PA 


You ask an important question since eating is one of the pleasures of life. As you probably already know, we should all “eat to live” rather than “live to eat.”

The best foods for COPD are generally the same as are recommended for health in general. However, eating too much carbohydrate may be bad for COPD and breathing because carbohydrates are metabolized (broken down) into carbon dioxide (CO2) which we exhale as a waste product of our body. As a result, eating an excessive amount of carbs may cause an increase in breathing difficulty.

Here is a brief list of healthy foods:

  1. whole grains
  2. low-fat 2% milk – has protein, calcium, and Vitamin D
  3. healthy fats – omega-3 found in nuts, eggs, olive oil, avocados, fish
  4. fruits and vegetables
  5. beans and peas – contain zinc
  6. lean protein – fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy products
Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables






Also, for those with COPD it is recommended that you eat small frequent meals rather than three large ones. Too much food in the stomach can push up the diaphragm (the maF

For those of us who live in northern climates and don’t get much sunlight or sunshine during winter months, you may wish to consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is required to help our body absorb calcium from our intestines which is important for strong bones. Vitamin D is also thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. You should discuss this with your doctor.

Finally, in the on-line publication on May 6, 2015, in the journal Neurology, Andrew Smyth and his colleagues reported that healthy eating was associated with a reduce risk of cognitive decline (memory loss and trouble thinking) in people who had a high risk of heart disease. Whether these findings apply to the rest of us with our without COPD is unknown. However, eating healthy (see items 1 – 6 above) makes sense. Bon appetit!

I hope that this information is helpful.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D.