Many people looking to improve their lung health overlook the critical role food and diet plays in promoting healthy lung function. Just like the rest of your body, your lungs require a healthy balance of essential proteins, vitamins and nutrients to reach their optimal function.
In addition to daily exercise and lung strengthening activities, diet can be an important lifestyle change to ensure you protect your lung capacity and are preventing lung disease to your best ability.
In this guide, we will cover the best foods for healthy lungs and the types of food you should avoid for healthy lungs. We’ll also include some easy food swaps on how to replace some of your favourite snacks with lung-friendly alternatives that are just as delicious!
What are the food types I should be eating for healthy lungs?
When developing a healthy lung diet, it’s important to make sure you’re including a range of food types to give your lungs the best nutritional balance. Try and incorporate:
- High-Fiber foods – Research demonstrates people with high-fiber diets generally have better lung health and lower risk of inflammation than those who don’t. Examples of fiber-rich foods include: raspberries, peas, lentils, whole-wheat spaghetti, baked beans, chia seeds, quinoa, pears, and broccoli.
- Healthy fats – Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats don’t contain cholesterol and can help reduce blood pressure. Examples include: nuts, olive oil and avocado.
- Proteins – Proteins help keep your body strong and can help your body produce immune system cells, as well as strengthening your respiratory system and lung capacity. Examples of high-protein foods include: lean meats like chicken or salmon, eggs, lentils and beans.
- Fresh produce – fruits and vegetables are full of the minerals, vitamins and fiber that benefit a strong pair of lungs. Processed foods can lead to congestion and chest tightening, so the more natural the ingredients you are using, the better.
Potassium – a healthy level of potassium can regulate blood pressure and improve digestive function, which may relieve cramping. Examples include: bananas, beets, leafy greens and tomatoes.
Best Foods for Healthy Lungs
There are a number of nutrient-packed foods you should definitely incorporate into your diet for healthy lungs.
Whole-grain foods are high in fiber, a nutrient with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that can be essential for lung function. They’re also full of vitamin E, selenium, and essential fatty acids, which are good for lung health. Keep an eye out for oatmeal, whole-wheat bread/wraps and brown rice.
Deep-colored berries like blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant in the flavonoid family. Anthocyanins are pigments that have been linked to protecting lungs from oxidative damage. An added bonus is berries taste great, are highly nutritious, and provide many health benefits for other essential body functions, including for your heart and skin.
Tomatoes are one of the richest vegetable sources of lycopene, a key dietary antioxidant found mainly in tomatoes, helps reduce airway inflammation, further reducing the chances of causing asthma and other respiratory problems. Cooking tomatoes is a good option because when they are cooked, the lycopene content tends to increase by five or six times.
Similar to tomatoes, leafy greens such as spinach, bok choy, kale and collards are high in carotenoids, which have antioxidant properties that benefit lungs. They’re also rich in iron, potassium, calcium and vitamins that have anti-inflammatory effects, which can help reduce lung inflammation and promote overall health.
Pumpkins are another food rich in carotenoids. The seeds can also be beneficial to a healthy lung diet. Additionally, its low calorie content makes it a weight-loss-friendly food, which cna be helpful if fighting the lung damage caused by obesity and related health conditions.
Legumes and nuts
Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils have high levels of fiber, which has been associated with improving lung health. Additionally, beans and nuts have a good amount of magnesium, a mineral that contributes to healthy lung function. Nuts are a fantastic snack on the go when you are feeling peckish. A handful of walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and are thought to contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help combat asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Worst Foods for your Lungs
There are a number of foods you should avoid to reduce the risk of lung damage and preventable lung illness.
Research demonstrates that processed and cured meat may be linked to worsened lung function. Regular consumption of corned beef, spam, salami, sausage meat, processed ham and other cured meats can be damaging to your lung strength and restrict airways. This is because the nitrites used in processing and preserving cured meats may cause inflammation and stress to the lungs, which is why this is a food group to limit in your diet.
Lots of fast food chains offer a lot of lung-damaging foods. Hot chips, battered onion rings, deep-fried cheese balls or other greasy fast food can cause bloating and higher cholesterol levels, which exacerbates COPD and make it some of the worst food for healthy lungs. If you can opt for grilled meat instead of deep-fried and battered options, your lungs have a much better chance of staying healthy.
Regular consumption of alcohol is bad for your liver and for your lungs. Sulfites in alcohol can worsen asthma symptoms, and ethanol affects your lung cells. If you already have poor lung health or a respiratory illness, beer is particuarly a bad choice because it’s also carbonated and can cause bloating, which puts extra pressure on the lungs and can make it harder to breathe.
Excessive salt consumption causes fluid retention, which can make it harder to breathe. This is because when the body is forced to retain more fluid, it strains the heart to have to pump it through the body and the lungs work extra hard.
Simple food swaps you can make to benefit your lungs!
Don’t feel overwhelmed if the foods you should avoid are regular parts of your diet. There are a number of simple food swaps you can introduce into your diet to benefit your lungs.
1. Swap salted crisps for veggie chips!
Potato chips are filled with salt and saturated fat, two things that are detrimental to lung health. If it is the crunch you desire, try this Crispy Kale Chips recipe. If you truly can’t resist potato chips, try and go for a low salt, low fat option.
2. Swap processed meats for lean meat!
Processed meats don’t do your lungs many benefits. Instead, try incorporating more chicken, salmon and other lean meats as protein into your diet. They don’t take too long to prepare and make an extremely healthy and tasty alternative. Instead of salami in your sandwich, try some smoked salmon or grilled lemon chicken!
3. Swap white bread for a whole grain alternative!
Simple carbohydrates such as white bread should be avoided, as it takes more work for the lungs to metabolize them. Instead, try a whole-grain loaf (bonus points if it has seeds!). The switch is fairly easy, but can make a big difference in alleviating extra stress on your lungs.
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