Nutrition and COPD


Good nutrition plays an important role in the management of COPD. It won’t cure COPD, but it can help you feel better, make your body stronger and help to fight infections.

A healthy nutritious diet:

  • Provides energy including the energy you need to breathe.
  • Promotes a strong immune system to help you prevent and fight infection.
  • Helps you maintain a healthy weight – if overweight your lungs and heart have to work harder, which can make breathing more difficult. If underweight or not eating enough you will feel tired, this can make it more difficult to do everyday things. You may also be prone to infections.

By choosing a wide variety of nourishing foods you are getting all the building blocks or nutrients needed for health and wellbeing. There

are no good or bad foods, but how you combine them together each day and each week is important.

How can COPD affect diet and nutrition?

For people with COPD, maintaining a healthy weight is very important. If people with COPD are very overweight, their heart and lungs have to work harder to supply oxygen to the body. Likewise, losing too much weight and becoming nutritionally compromised can make people with COPD more at risk of infection.

What is a healthy body weight?
Using the graph at the back of this booklet, it is possible to work out an individual’s Body Mass Index (BMI), which is based on their weight and height. This indicates whether a person is underweight, overweight or within a healthy weight range. When someone has COPD, it is important to be aware of their weight, and any weight changes. If concerned, seek advice from your doctor or nurse.
Weight gain
People with COPD who are very overweight may become more short of breath during activities, such as walking up stairs or carrying the groceries. Increased weight adds to the body’s oxygen demands. Carrying additional body weight also increases the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Some medication taken for COPD, such as steroids, may cause an increase in appetite and result in a person eating more than usual. This may lead to weight gain and can be a concern if it causes the person with COPD to become very
Crash dieting is unhealthy, especially in COPD. Any weight loss should be done gradually through sensible healthy eating and ideally in combination with increased physical activity.


If your appetite is poor and you want to increase your food intake, here are some tips you can follow:

  • Eat little and often i.e. 3 meals with 3 snacks in between your meals.
  • Choose high protein foods at least twice a day e.g. meat/chicken/fish/eggs/cheese or beans are all good sources of protein.
  • Choose high calorie nourishing desserts e.g. milk pudding/custard/jelly and ice-cream/mousse.
  • Drink milk instead of low calorie drinks such as tea/black coffee.
  • Always have snacks in the house to nibble e.g. cheese/crackers/biscuits/cakes/yoghurts etc.
  • Use nutritional supplements
  • There are many nourishing drinks that can be purchased in your chemist or supermarket e.g. Build-up, Complan, and Vita Food.
  • Other supplemental drinks available may be prescribed by your G.P. or doctor, if your appetite remains poor and you find it difficult to gain weight.

Some G.P. practices also have links with community dieticians and if desired you make ask to be referred to them for dietary advise.


Exercise is good for everyone as it contributes to our general wellbeing. In people with COPD, exercise is very beneficial as it strengthens the breathing muscles. This means you will not need to work as hard to get air into your lungs.

Exercise will also give you a feeling of well being and help you sleep better at night. It can also help with feelings of anxiety and mild depression.

Exercise programmes need to be discussed with your doctor/respiratory nurse or physiotherapist before commencing. They will advise you or refer you to a suitable programme.