Do Eating Habits Impact COPD?

Posted on March 09, 2021   |   

Dear Coach,

My wife has had COPD now for several years. In the past few months, she seems to get ill after eating with a lot of gas causing her to belch a lot. She also seems to have problems breathing afterwards, too. What would you suggest we do?

Dear Concerned Caregiver,

The problem you describe could be from a health problem other than COPD so she should talk to her doctor know about these new problems to make sure she can get any testing or treatment she needs. In people living with COPD, it is always smart to think about diet and food.

Having COPD presents many challenges and eating can be one of them. Nutrition is very important for everyone but with COPD it is not only important but often critical that we not just consume food, but in the process get the needed protein, fiber, fats, and carbohydrates. Something to keep in mind is that the simple act of breathing requires calories. But people living with severe COPD use many more (often hundreds more) calories to breathe than someone without COPD. If these calories are not replaced it can result in weight loss, fatigue and even more shortness of breath.

Instead of eating large meals a couple times a day your wife should try eating several smaller meals throughout the day. These smaller meals should be high calorie and protein such as cheese, peanut butter, protein shakes and meats. In my case, I find it easy to eat peanut butter crackers and sandwiches, small meat and cheese slices, and a high calorie nutritional shake. When I eat the smaller meals, I feel far less bloated and breathless.

Oxygen is a vital part of digestion and helping the body use the foods we eat. If your wife is using supplemental oxygen, she should use it when she eats. Most people can use the nose cannula while eating. Drinking water while eating is also very important as it aids digestion by helping to break down the food and helps the nutrients be adsorbed by the body. Don’t drink large amounts at once since this can fill up the stomach. She should limit such things as uncooked green vegetables, beans and fried foods as these can cause gas.

Something else that might be causing problems for your wife is a condition caused by hyper-inflation of the lungs. As emphysema progresses the air sacs can become less elastic, making it harder to exhale (breathe out) completely. This trapped air causes the lungs to lose their shape and take up more space in the chest. This means that your lungs are actually pushing against other organs such as the stomach. After eating a large meal, the stomach pushes up against the lungs which is uncomfortable and can cause shortness of breath; another good reason to eat smaller more frequent meals.

It might also be a good idea to consult with a nutritionist or dietician as to what options might work best for you.

The COPD Coach

Dear COPD Coach,

I was just diagnosed with COPD about a year ago. When diagnosed I was given several medications and was advised by the doctor’s assistant to "watch my diet". I really am not sure what that means. Is there a special diet for those with COPD?


Dear Puzzled,

A good diet is very important for everyone, but this is especially true with those of us who have COPD. Your diet provides the fuel that your body requires in order to function properly. Your body uses oxygen to turn that food into energy, and COPD affects how much oxygen is available. In fact, our COPD can mean we use up to 10 times more calories to just to breathe than someone without any lung problems. We have to eat enough and the right things to replace those calories used in breathing.

But it is not just getting calories. It is also important to eat the right finds of foods for those calories. The process of metabolizing our food results in energy and carbon dioxide. For example, eating carbohydrates like bread or cereals can result in the body making higher levels of carbon dioxide, which for people with severe COPD can mean adding carbon dioxide to what they already retain. It can be a problem for some people with COPD and actually cause more breathlessness or shortness of breath. A diet low in carbohydrates maybe good for those with more severe COPD and you should ask your health care professional about this. When you eat carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates which come from whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain pasta are the best.

Mono and poly unsaturated fats that primarily come from plants and do not contain cholesterol should be a part of your daily diet. Proteins are also very important in maintain all your muscles including your breathing muscles.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important as both being overweight or underweight can cause problems with your breathing. Consult with a certified dietician before undertaking any diet or to set up COPD diet plan that meets your needs.

The COPD Coach

This page was reviewed on March 9, 2021 by the COPD Foundation Content Review and Evaluation Committee.


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  • I agree on your comments above. The difficulty I have w/eating is the exertion required to prepare a meal. Some times I get a nice meal, say a grilled steak {indoor or outdoor grill} prepared I'm too exhausted to jump right in and eat. The best solution is prepare one big meal, and re-heat many smaller meals over the next few days. There's also the ubiquitous TV dinner - just watch the additives. //ed
  • I have digestion problems, also. Was admitted to a local hospital a few weeks ago with a major colon bleed. Same thing happened back in September, but was not nearly as bad. We only live 10 minutes away from the hospital, and I lost so much blood, I almost died. They said that if I had been much longer getting there, I would not have made it. The slow receptionist who admitted me was partially to blame. I often have bloating and gas. If I could breathe as strong as I can fart, I would be in good shape. 😆 I did get a colonoscopy at the hospital, and some polyps were removed. The surgeon found one that was hard to get to, and he was afraid to get it. This situation is pending currently. Always something, but no complaints .