7 Foods to Avoid with COPD

Medically Reviewed By Marie Lorraine Johnson MS, RD, CPT

Certain foods can affect lung health and function. If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may consider avoiding foods high in sodium, saturated fats, and refined sugars. Bodily and chemical changes during digestion can affect breathing. Having COPD can also affect nutritional needs.

Paying attention to nutrition can help manage COPD and support lung health. Limiting certain foods may help reduce symptoms or flare-ups.

This article explains foods to limit if you have COPD, as well as offers other nutritional advice.

Completely avoiding certain foods may not be necessary

Not everyone experiences the same effects from foods. In addition, some foods linked to COPD symptoms, such as dairy and starchy vegetables, can contain beneficial nutrients.

As a result, avoiding some foods altogether may not be necessary. Instead, limiting certain foods according to your doctor’s recommendations may be more beneficial.

Talk with a doctor or registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet. This includes lowering your intake of certain foods and food groups.

1. Salt

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Sodium, or salt, can cause fluid buildup when consumed at high levels. People with COPD may already experience fluid retention, which causes swelling. This can make breathing even harder.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 70% Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source of consumed sodium comes from restaurant foods and highly processed foods.

To cut down on sodium, consider:

  • limiting highly processed foods
  • cooking and eating more meals at home
  • choosing meals and products labeled “low sodium” in restaurants and supermarkets
  • asking whether restaurants can prepare your food without adding extra salt
  • avoiding seasoning your food with salt, and adding flavor with other herbs and spices

2. Foods that cause gas

Some foods can increase gas in the digestive system and cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source bloating. Bloating may affect the movement of the diaphragm and chest muscles, which control breathing. This sometimes leads to shortness of breath and chest tightness.

Foods that may especially cause gas include:

  • onions
  • beer
  • dairy
  • cruciferous vegetables, such as:
    • broccoli
    • Brussels sprouts
    • cabbage and sauerkraut
    • cauliflower

3. Simple carbohydrates

Digesting carbohydrates produces more carbon dioxide than other foods, possibly making breathing more difficult.

Research suggests that a low carbohydrate diet may help decrease Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source carbon dioxide production and inflammation. A 2021 case report also theorizes that a ketogenic diet may have anti-inflammatory properties that could improve COPD. A ketogenic diet involves eating a very low amount of carbohydrates and replacing them with protein and fat.

Learn more about low carbohydrate diets.

However, some carbohydrates contain essential nutrients, and some people may benefit from continuing to eat them.

The American Lung Association suggests prioritizing eating complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain three or more types of sugar, whereas simple carbohydrates contain one to two sugar types.

Complex carbohydrates include:

  • whole grain products, such as brown or whole grain bread, rice, and pasta
  • fruits
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, yams, and corn
  • legumes, such as peas and beans
  • nuts and seeds

Simple carbohydrates include added or refined sugars.

Read more about carbohydrates.

4. Carbonated drinks

Drinks that have been carbonated or aerated have added carbon dioxide, making them fizz. As with carbohydrates, carbon dioxide from drinks can also affect breathing ability.

Consider avoiding all carbonated drinks. Many carbonated drinks also contain high levels of added sugars.

5. Trans and saturated fats

The American Lung Association recommends limiting foods that contain trans fats and saturated fats if you have COPD.

Researchers have linked Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a diet high in saturated fats to airway inflammation, impaired lung function, and being overweight and obesity. These are risk factors for decreased lung function.

Saturated and trans fats may be in these foods:

  • dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and ghee
  • cooking fats, such as lard, margarine, and suet
  • baked goods, such as cookies, pizza crusts, and pastries
  • some oils, such as palm oil and coconut oil
  • hydrogenated oils, which are noted on food packaging with the word “hydrogenated” before the name of the oil, such as hydrogenated soybean oil or hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • highly processed and fatty meats, such as:
    • pork sausages and hot dogs
    • ham and deli meats
    • burgers
    • high fat mince
    • bacon
    • skin from meat

Fried or greasy foods can also be high in trans and saturated fats if they have been cooked in certain oils and fats.

6. Dairy

The effect of dairy on COPD can be mixed. Older research suggests Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that certain nutrients in dairy products, such as vitamin D, can benefit lung function. However, dairy products can also be high in saturated fats, which may impair Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source lung function.

Dairy products include:

  • milk
  • cream and ice cream
  • yogurt
  • butter and ghee
  • cheese

Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about whether cutting down on dairy may help you. To limit saturated and trans fats in your diet, choose low fat dairy products, such as skim milk instead of whole milk.

7. Alcohol

High alcohol consumption may impair Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source lung function.

Alcohol can reduce coughing, a natural defense against respiratory infections that helps clear the airways.

A 2016 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that people who experience alcohol use disorder were more likely to experience respiratory infections and lung injury. These may be particularly serious for people with COPD.

However, some early research links moderate alcohol consumption to a lower risk of developing COPD. This research includes a 2019 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source on people assigned male at birth. Further research is necessary to confirm how alcohol may affect people who already have COPD.

It may not be necessary to cut out alcohol completely. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source recommends that all adults drink alcohol in moderate amounts. This means two or fewer drinks per day for people assigned male at birth, or up to one drink per day for people assigned female at birth.

Other nutritional advice with COPD

If you have COPD, also consider the following nutritional habits:

If COPD symptoms such as shortness of breath or fatigue cause difficulty eating, the following actions may help Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source :

  • working with a doctor or dietitian to create a meal plan that prioritizes smaller, more frequent meals
  • eating slowly
  • resting before eating

Talk with your doctor if you have questions about your symptoms, nutrition, or treatment.

Summary

Foods to avoid with COPD generally include those high in sodium, added sugars, and trans and saturated fats. Some people may also find that dairy products, carbonated drinks, alcohol and cruciferous vegetables contribute to their COPD symptoms.

However, nutritional requirements and the impact of certain foods with COPD can vary per person.

Talk with your doctor for advice about COPD and nutrition, or if you have any questions.

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Medical Reviewer: Marie Lorraine Johnson MS, RD, CPT
Last Review Date: 2023 Oct 23
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.