7 important dietary tips for emphysema patients

Follow these guidelines to help manage the symptoms of emphysema.

21 August 2015
by Stefan de Clerk

Emphysema is a type of lung disease that causes poor airflow to the lungs and limits the abilty to breathe freely. While there is sadly no cure for emphysema, using medication and also making key lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and following a healthy diet may relieve symptoms.

Because breathing is harder for people with emphysema, the muscles used for breathing require more energy to work, therefore following the correct diet becomes very important as it supplies the necessary energy. “People who suffer from emphysema often feel tired and out of breath, due to these symptoms, they might not eat enough food, and together with the disease progression, they might lose weight,” explains Abbey Courtenay, a registered dietician at Nutritional Solutions in Johannesburg. “A healthy diet helps to keep your lungs and body strong.”

Courtenay recommends these dietary tips for those suffering from emphysema:

1. Eat a variety of foods from all four food groups

The best way to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs is to eat foods from all four of the food groups. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables high in potassium, whole grains and starches, dairy products, and lean meat or meat alternatives.

2. Avoid foods that are poor in nutrients

Foods like fizzy drinks, fast food, chips, sweets, biscuits, and other processed foods should be avoided. “They will fill you up without giving your body adequate nutrition,” says Courtenay. Healthier snack alternatives include plain popcorn (without salt), yoghurt, fruit smoothies, cheese or peanut butter.

3. Eat small, frequent meals

Eating smaller meals more frequently will help keep your stomach from filling up too much, and leave more room for your lungs to expand.

4. Limit your salt intake

According to Courtenay, “too much salt can cause your body to retain fluid, making it harder to breathe.” Don’t sprinkle salt onto your food, and use herbs and spices instead of salt when cooking. Check food labels and avoid foods with more than 300mg of sodium per serving.

5. Drink enough fluids

“Fluid helps keep mucous thin and thus easier to cough up,” says Courtenay. Drink lots of non-carbonated, non-caffeinated fluids like water, milk, freshly pressed juice, decaffeinated tea, and soup. However, some emphysema patients might need to limit their fluid intake, so check with your doctor first.

Be careful when it comes to alcohol though, cautions Courtenay. “Alcohol can interact with medications, might slow your breathing and make it difficult to cough up mucous. Talk to your doctor before considering drinking alcohol.”

6. Get more oxygen

Oxygen helps with digestion, so use your oxygen during or after meals. If your doctor has prescribed continuous oxygen, wear your cannula (a nasal tube that delivers supplementary oxygen to emphysema patients) while eating.

7. Seek guidance

It’s important to remember that every person’s body reacts differently to food, and some food like beans, avocados, apples or onions may make you feel bloated and should be avoided. If you’re unsure about anything diet-related, speak to your doctor and a registered dietician.

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