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Healthy Eating

Nutrition and lung disease can be complex issues.  This is because different lung diseases can have unique nutritional challenges. Each disease comes with different treatments, its own set of symptoms, and with that, side effects that may affect our body’s nutritional status.  

Common challenges may include increased or decreased appetite, weight gain or weight loss, and inability to adequately meet your nutritional needs. However, there is one thing they all have in common: no matter what your lung disease is, the food you eat should contribute to your overall health. Working with a registered dietitian and developing a meal plan that you consume whole foods and avoid processed foods whenever possible.     

Symptoms that make eating difficult 

For instance, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD or acid reflux) may be common symptoms you experience on a daily basis. These symptoms can leave you feeling exhausted and defeated when it comes to having your next meal.   

Choosing easily prepared foods that require minimal prep work is a great idea, because you avoid spending too much energy prior to eating. If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing, puréed foods can help increase intake without risk of choking. You may also want to consider adding a well-balanced smoothie or protein shake in between meals to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients. Liquids like smoothies and shakes also keep you hydrated.   

Eat Well - Breathe Easier  

Your body needs a lot of energy. People with IPF use more energy breathing. If you are underweight, you may lack energy. A health care provider may advise you to obtain more calories through a specific diet. If you are overweight, your muscles will have to work harder and this can worsen your shortness of breath. Excess weight around your waistline can make breathing even more difficult because it places more pressure on your diaphragm – which assists your lungs with breathing. A balanced and healthy diet can help you achieve a healthy weight.  


Many patients with lung disease experience GERD as a result of excessive coughing, throat irritation, or certain foods. There are a few things you can do to help ease these symptoms.  

This includes:  

  • Eating smaller, frequent meals so food can be digested more easily  
  • Maintaining an upright position for 30-60 minutes before, after and during meal times  
  • Losing weight (if overweight) 
  • Avoiding late night meals 
  • Raising the head of the bed to sleep 
  • Avoiding trigger foods that are high in fat, spicy, or highly acidic such as: 
  • Citrus or tomato-based products 
  • Peppermint 
  • Chocolate 
  • Alcohol 
  • Nicotine 
  • Tea, coffee (caffeine) 
  • Citric foods like tomatoes and oranges 
  • Certain medications 

Eat a Well-Balanced Diet 

While the different amounts of different foods vary case by case depending on your individual needs, all foods should be healthy and well-rounded. When creating a meal, an easy rule to try and follow is more colour equals more nutrients!  Including a variety of fruit and vegetables helps to adequately meet your micronutrient needs.  

People with lung disease often require increased protein because of their medication, to prevent muscle weakening. Including protein-rich foods in all meals and snacks will help ensure you reach your daily goals. Remember that all foods are not created equal and consult Canada’s Food Guide and adjust amounts to your specific needs. Be sure to include water as a staple with all meals and avoid drinks with added sugar.  

General Tips for Healthy Eating  

  • Enjoy a variety of foods.  
  • Choose lean meats.  
  • Limit salt, sugar, alcohol and caffeine.  
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.  
  • To save time and energy, find recipes that are quick and easy but also nutritious.  
  • When possible, prepare more than one meal at a time and freeze what you do not eat so you can still eat healthy when time is limited or when you are feeling unwell.  
  • Drink plenty of water 
  • General Tips if You Get Short of Breath when Eating  
  • Eat small frequent meals throughout the day (5-6 small meals instead of 3 big meals). 
  • Rest before eating. 
  • Eat slowly and chew foods well.  
  • Cut your food into small, bite-size pieces.  
  • Eat foods that are nutritious and easy to chew and swallow.  
  • Choose foods that will maximize nutrition and protein in a small amount. 

Keep in mind that no matter what your dietary needs may be at a given time, the overall goal is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and nourishing your body through healthy food.  Everyone is different! You may need a personalized dietary plan. Ask your doctor about a referral to a dietitian that specializes in chronic disease management nutrition. 

To learn more about nutrition watch the recorded webinar Nutrition Information with Dietitian and Certified Respiratory Educator Karen Davis. 

To learn more about healthy living with pulmonary fibrosis visit Lung Health Materials to download and read Management in the IPF Handbook

To learn more about healthy living with COPD visit Lung Health Materials to download and read Management in the COPD Handbook