Eating and Breathing. Essentials for Life

Jun 1, 2022

Eating and Breathing. Essentials for Life

Many people are surprised to learn that foods can affect breathing, especially if there is a chronic lung condition, such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema. Recent, frequent air quality advisories in the the city can impact people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and make it a challenge to function normally. While living with COPD, eating a healthy diet can help maintain strength and improve quality of life by reducing some symptoms. Being underweight can make symptoms worse, whereas being overweight can stress heart and lungs.


Individuals with breathing issues may deal with a variety of nutritional concerns that affect their daily living. People living with lung disease may struggle to maintain weight, have dry mouth, low appetite, swelling in ankles, gas, bloating and possibly acid reflux.


Since laboured breathing takes time and energy, those living with emphysema or other chronic lung problems, may be underweight and therefore have less nutritional stores for when, and if, they get sick. Being underweight with lung disease can affect quality, and length of life.


Methods to gain weight include choosing protein-rich foods with higher levels of fat and dairy products made with whole milk, full fat yogurt, cheese and cream.

Lean muscle tissue requires adequate daily dietary protein, such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, cheese, milk, nuts, seeds, beans/legumes/peas, soy and lentils. Two to three servings of protein-rich foods helps to maintain muscle including respiratory and heart muscles. Including calorie-rich fluids, such as milkshakes, smoothies, Ensure, Boost or equivalent between or after meals helps to improve energy intake for those people struggling to maintain weight.


Many people living with breathing issues have dry mouth for a variety of reasons. This could be as a result of medication side effects, inadequate fluid intake, salty food intake and  ‘open mouth’ and/or pursed-lip breathing. With dry mouth can come thick, sticky mucus and saliva, which can affect taste buds and reduce appetite.

Oral care is very important for people with breathing issues. Rinsing often with baking soda and water or club soda can help with symptoms of dry mouth and improve appetite and taste for food. Fluid intake is important to help keep the body working well. Fluids will thin mucous secretions, plus help maintain bowel regularity.

Salty foods can impact swelling of ankles and may make high blood pressure worse. Food labels indicate how much sodium are in foods and can be a useful tool to choose more wisely. 15% Daily Value (DV) or more is a lot and may increase problems. Whereas, eating foods that have 5% DV of sodium or less would be a healthier option.


Some tips to help make eating easier for those struggling to breathe, include;

Choosing foods that are easy to prepare.

Try softer, easy to chew foods to reduce effort of eating.

Resting before eating and eat slowly in a relaxed atmosphere

For most people, fatigue can set in later in the day and evening.

Aim to eat the bulk of your food earlier in the day, when you have better energy levels.

Limit foods that may cause bloating or gas, as this tends to make breathing more difficult.

Avoid deep-fried, greasy foods that may cause abdominal distention, bloating and gas, which pushes up on the diaphragm muscle that restricts lung expansion

Eat four to six small meals and snacks throughout the day to help digestion, instead of big meals. This enables the diaphragm to move more easily to allow the lungs to fill up with air and empty more easily.

Try for sips of fluids with meals rather than full drinks. Beverages with meals may make a person too full to eat the food. Aim for drinking fluids after meals.

Carbonated beverages, such as soda and pop may contribute to gassy stomach, which makes breathing difficult

Enlisting friends, family and/or meal services to help with meal times and/or grocery shopping.


A well-nourished body is better able to handle colds/flus and other infections, whereas people with lower muscle and fat stores may become sick quickly and require hospitalization. Good nutrition can help prevent that.

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