Many people are surprised to learn that foods and diet can affect breathing, especially if they have a chronic lung condition, such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.
Recent air quality advisories in the Alberni Valley 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. These people 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 fewer nutritional stores for when and if they get sick. Being underweight with lung disease can affect quality and length of life.
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 with food.
Methods to gain weight include choosing protein-rich foods with higher levels of fat, plus dairy products, such as whole milk, full fat yogurt and cheese.
Many people coping with breathing issues may have dry mouth for a variety of reasons. This could be due to medication side effects, inadequate fluid intake, eating salty food and ‘open mouth’ and/or pursed-lip breathing. With dry mouth can come thick, sticky mucus and saliva, which can affect taste buds, reduce appetite and cause sore mouth.
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, improve appetite, taste for food and reduce mouth infections. Adequate fluid intake is important to help keep the body working well. Intake of 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 packaged foods and can be a useful tool to choose more wisely.
Fifteen per cent Daily Value (D.V.) or more is a lot of sodium content and may increase problems. Whereas, eating foods that have five per cent D.V. of sodium or less would be a healthier option. Highly processed, packaged items tend to have more sodium, whereas fresh/frozen vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthier options with less added salt.
People living with lung disease often have a higher risk of acid reflux. Skipping meals and then subsequently eating too much at once can aggravate symptoms. Smaller, more frequent meals and snacks seem to be better tolerated.
Any foods or fluids that cause gas, bloating or abdominal distention may make reflux worse. For some people, items such as caffeinated drink products, chocolate, pizza, deep fried, greasy foods and cured, processed meats may be the biggest offenders. Bloating is another symptom that can make breathing uncomfortable, since it pushes up on the diaphragm muscle, which restricts lung expansion and makes breathing difficult.
Some suggestions to help make eating easier for those struggling to breathe, include:
• Choosing foods that are easy to prepare.
• Trying softer, easy-to-chew foods to reduce effort of eating.
• Making foods moister with extra sauces and dressings.
• Resting before eating.
• Eating slowly in a relaxed atmosphere.
• Eating four to six small meals and snacks throughout the day to help with digestion.
• Eating small amounts of food enables the diaphragm to move better and to allow the lungs to fill up with air and empty more easily.
• Changing the biggest meal of the day to lunch, since afternoon/evening fatigue can reduce energy for meal preparation and eating.
• Limiting gas-forming foods and avoiding deep-fried, greasy foods that may cause abdominal distention and bloating.
• Trying for sips of fluids with meals rather than full drinks. Beverages with meals may make a person too full to eat the food. Instead aim to drink 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.
In addition, maintaining a level of physical fitness with paced amount of daily activity will help to arm the body during winter cold and flu season.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.