Diet and Nutrition

What is meant by the words 'Diet' and 'Nutrition'?

‘Diet’ is the word used for all the items of food and drink which we choose to eat. Having a healthy diet means eating the right amount of calories to balance the energy you use with the amount of energy you take in through food. If you take in more energy than you use up, you will lose weight, but if you use up more energy than you take in, you’ll lose weight. ‘Nutrition’ is the word used for providing or consuming the food and drink we need for good health, growth and wellbeing. You should eat a variety of foods to get a balanced diet. Certain foods provide excellent nutrition, which support our bodies to function well. Other foods provide poor nutrition, which do little to support our health. 

How does Diet and Nutrition relate to my lung condition?

A healthy diet supports the immune system to fight off infection. This is especially important for people with a lung condition. Chest infections put extra pressure on the body and having a lung condition can make fighting off infection more difficult. A good diet provides important nutrients for the muscles of the heart and lungs, helping them to pump efficiently and push oxygen-filled blood round your body. Nutrients in dairy products provide calcium to the bones, however there are also vegan sources of calcium- find out more about all sources of calcium on the NHS website. Calcium is especially important for people taking steroids, which can affect bone health. Drinking plenty of fluid (6-8 glasses a day) is important to keep the mucus in your lungs moving.

What is considered to be a healthy diet?

A healthy diet includes a variety of food and drink providing levels of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, to support our bodies to function and grow. A healthy diet should contain plenty of water and a variety of foods from the five main food types, known as food groups. The five main food types are included below, with a few examples.

  • Fruits and vegetables, e.g., bananas, oranges, broccoli and mushrooms
  • Carbohydrates, e.g., potatoes, bread and pasta
  • Protein, e.g., meat, fish, nuts and lentils
  • Dairy, e.g., milk, cheese and yoghurt 
  • Healthy fats, e.g., olive oil, avocado

It is very important to eat at least five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. What counts as a portion can be different between different foods. Here you can read about what a portion size means. 

You can read more about a balanced diet on the British Lung Foundation website.

What about a vegetarian or vegan diet?

If people choose to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, is important to make sure that a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients are eaten daily. For more information about how to safely follow a vegetarian diet, click here. For more information about how to safely follow a vegan diet, click here.

If you think that you may not be getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients from your diet, speak to your GP or respiratory nurse about possible supplements.

Which foods or drinks should be avoided and why?

Food and drink items high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats are a poor source of vitamins and nutrients. Highly processed foods, meaning those have been adapted to increase shelf life or alter taste, colour or texture should be avoided. Whilst it may be enjoyable to have these as a treat, this should be occasionally and not part of your daily diet. Having too much of this type of food can increase your risk of serious health issues such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

You can read more about processed foods on the NHS website

Tips for if breathlessness is making eating difficult

Breathlessness can sometimes make eating difficult. The following suggestions may be helpful to make eating more comfortable.

  • Schedule meals around times when you may have more energy
  • Clear the airways one hour before eating. See our page on airway clearance
  • Rest before a meal to save energy
  • Eat in an upright seated position
  • Use prescribed oxygen as instructed
  • Avoid foods which could cause bloating
  • Eat little and often
  • Choose softer foods that don’t need lots of chewing
  • Eat your food slowly

Sip drinks or have a drink after the meal. Staying hydrated can keep mucus thin and so make it easier to clear it from your chest.