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Breathe freely: Foods that are good for your lungs
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Breathe freely: Foods that are good for your lungs

What you eat can help you breathe easier. A healthy diet can reduce the risk of respiratory issues and inflammation

Lung-friendly foods to add to your diet

Did you know that a healthy diet can help you breathe better? Experts suggest that the contents of your plate have several effects on your lung health — from the functioning of lung tissues to how your body’s immune system works to fight respiratory infections.

Dr Ankur Jain, senior consultant, gastroenterology, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi, stresses, “A well-balanced diet plays a vital role in supporting optimal lung function and reducing the risk of respiratory issues.”

Your lungs and your diet: What’s the link?

A person’s diet becomes vital in the face of chronic lung conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer, informs Dr Gopi Krishna Yedlapati, senior consultant interventional pulmonologist at Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, Telangana. He explains, “Your diet constitutes about one-third of the factors responsible for good lung health. Hence, a balanced diet is crucial in terms of preventing infections.”

Adequate intake of essential nutrients, such as vitamins (A, C and E), minerals (magnesium and selenium) and antioxidants can help maintain healthy lung tissues and protect against oxidative damage caused by pollutants and toxins. “Certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, possess anti-inflammatory properties. By incorporating these into your diet, you can help reduce chronic inflammation, which is linked to various lung diseases,” Dr Jain explains. 

Dr Sachin Kumar, senior consultant, pulmonology and critical care medicine, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, says that a low-carbohydrate, high protein intake is recommended in people with underlying lung-related diseases and infections such as tuberculosis, lung abscess or long-term pulmonary diseases. “This is because they may have an underlying protein deficiency. Soya beans, sprouts, etc. are also good additions to the diet.”

Moreover, the oil used for cooking can also impact lung health. Dr Yedlapati says, “We recommend oil made of paddy husk, or olive or palm oil. These cooking oils have potent antioxidant properties and are considered beneficial,” he says.

Lung-friendly food: What to eat and what to avoid for people with lung disorders such as asthma and COPD

Diet for TB

Dr Yedlapati informs that for respiratory diseases like tuberculosis and fungal infections, people are recommended a high-protein diet, including fish, chicken and lean meats. Moreover, they should avoid processed meats. “We also ask them to include eggs since they’re a rich source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids,” he adds.

Diet for asthma

Some foods are considered great for people with asthma, shares Dr Yedlapati. “We ask them to add beetroots and apples to their diet. When possible, they should include eggs and fish in their meals too. They can eat dry fruits as well to help improve lung function.”

Dr Yedlapati also adds that people with asthma should avoid fruits such as bananas, pineapples, custard apples and lemons. “These foods, especially bananas, have certain proteins containing histidine. Hence, they can produce more mucous and phlegm. We also ask them to avoid chocolates, especially brown chocolates,” he explains.

The American Lung Foundation also recommends vitamin E-rich foods such as almonds, raw seeds, swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, broccoli and hazelnuts. Such fare contains tocopherol, a compound known to reduce symptoms of asthma, like coughing or wheezing.

Diet for COPD

According to Dr Yedlapati, people with COPD should opt for a diet rich in antioxidants and proteins. “Eggs, fish and lean meats, as well as tomatoes, pumpkins and beetroots, can be added to the diet of people with COPD while processed meats are to be avoided,” he says. Dr Yedlapati adds that these persons are encouraged to consume tea or coffee, preferably green tea.

Diet for lung cancer

There are no contraindications in terms of diet when it comes to lung cancer. “We do, however, ask people with lung cancer to avoid tobacco, alcohol and fried and salty foods. At the same time, we suggest an increase in the consumption of dried fruits such as dates. These will help fight the disease, especially with anti-inflammatory action from the diet,” Dr Yedlapati explains.

Moreover, a 2019 study published in JAMA Oncology found that a high intake of dietary fibre and yoghurt was associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer. Dr Yedlapati says a lot of people assume curd or yoghurt can increase mucus production. “This isn’t true,” he says. “You only need to ensure that the curd you consume is not chilled. It has good mineral content — potassium and calcium — these are beneficial for people with lung diseases.”

Foods to avoid for better lung health

Certain types of food should be avoided or consumed in moderation to maintain lung health. Dr Jain elaborates:

Processed and fried foods: These often contain unhealthy trans fats and high sodium levels, which can cause inflammation. Consuming too much salt can also lead to fluid retention and increased blood pressure, potentially impacting one’s lung function.

Beverages with added sugars: Soda, certain energy drinks, etc. have been associated with an increased risk of respiratory issues. Hence, these are best avoided.

Full-fat dairy products: Such foods are associated with increased respiratory issues and decreased lung function, says Dr Jain. People should opt for a low-fat or a non-fat dairy option instead, he adds.

Foods that you’re allergic to: Food allergies can trigger respiratory symptoms and exacerbate one’s lung issues. It’s best to identify the foods you’re allergic to and eliminate them from your diet. 

Takeaway

Your diet and lung health are linked. A healthy diet not only helps your body fight respiratory infections and manage lung conditions such as asthma and COPD, but can also reduce chronic inflammation and help you breathe easily.

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