COPD, Asthma, and YOU: Quick and Healthy Meals

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In the face of walls of processed foods at the supermarket, it is difficult to maintain a healthy diet. And yet, if you have COPD or care for someone who does, you know how much what you eat affects your health and well-being. But you might not have the energy or time to prepare your meals from scratch. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the trap of resorting to processed foods.  

Before we go any further, we need to remind you to consult with your doctor about your diet, especially about any special requirements in relation to your condition or medications. For specific meal preparation guidelines, consider consulting a registered dietician who specializes in helping COPD patients.  

Persons with COPD naturally use more energy while breathing, sometimes as much as 10 times the calories used by those with no breathing difficulty. Therefore, it is important to eat foods that maintain a higher caloric intake. However, striking the correct balance requires some attention especially if one needs reduce weight to improve breathing. This is another reason to seek professional advice before changing your diet. 

General Guidelines 

You can find many good recipes for COPD-friendly meals online. Most reflect the following general guidelines (for example, see Nutrition and COPD” by the American Lung Association: 

  • To maintain energy and muscle strength, try to eat protein (milk, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, nut butters, tofu) at least twice a day. 
  • To lose weight: Choose low-fat sources of protein such as lean meats and low-fat dairy products. 
  • To gain weight: Choose protein with a higher fat content, such as whole milk, whole milk cheese and yogurt.  
  • Use plant-based mono- or poly-unsaturated fats in cooking. Use more to gain weight, less to lose weight. 
  • Work with your doctor or nutritionist to make sure that you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals (vitamin D3, calcium, magnesium, zinc), especially if you take steroid medications. 
  • To stay hydrated and to keep mucus thin for easier clearing, drink a sufficient amount of fluids according to your doctor’s recommendation.  
  • Drinking fluids before or during meals might make you feel too full to eat. Try waiting until you have finished your meal before drinking fluids. 
  • Since eating might make you tired, try to rest for an hour or so before meals. 
  • If you’re too tired to eat later in the day, try eating more during the morning hours when you have more energy. 
  • Try avoiding or reducing foods (beans, broccoli, legumes) that cause gas or bloating which can interfere with breathing. Since these foods are also beneficial (providing fiber, protein, vitamins), you might keep a food diary to see which of them you can tolerate and which cause you more trouble. Everyone reacts differently to certain foods. 
  • Many dieticians recommend eating 4 to 6 smaller meals (rather than 3 larger meals) a day to keep from feeling too full and to consume less energy. 
  • As much as possible, try to incorporate fresh, whole foods in your meals rather than heavily processed, chemically laden foods that contain too much sodium, sugar (high fructose corn syrup), or saturated fats. Note: fresh-frozen produce is as healthy as non-frozen produce and can be stored for longer periods. 

For more information on some of these topics, please see our earlier post, “COPD, Asthma, and You: How Diet Can Make a Difference.” 

Meal Preparation Tips 

Meal preparation can be burdensome for you if your COPD causes fatigue. Those who care for persons with COPD also struggle sometimes to observe nutritional guidelines while preparing more frequent meals. Here are some tips that might make things a little easier. 

Since including more fruits and vegetables adds time to meal preparation, it might be helpful to purchase a small food processor to handle much of the chopping. A blender for making smoothies and salad dressings might also help. 

Again, when chopping or slicing, many people find sitting on a high stool or at a counter prevents fatigue. Doing the chopping ahead of the time when you begin to cook might also conserve energy by spreading the task over a longer period. (Many grocers sell pre-chopped foods, but be sure to watch for expiration dates to avoid spoilage.) 

To reduce the number of meals that you need to prepare, make sure to have leftovers on hand often. You can make larger quantities or double batches of food, some of which can be frozen for later use. (Safety tip: be careful about reheating poultry or soups containing chicken broth because food poisoning can result from failure to heat to a sufficiently high temperature.) 

Try preparing one-pan (frypan, one-sheet oven pan, casserole dish, slow cooker or crock-pot) meals to save energy and time in preparation and clean-up later. 

Important safety tip: if you use supplemental oxygen, consider not cooking with a gas/propane stove or a gas/charcoal grill. Oxygen tubing when filled with oxygen burns quickly. Even leaning over an open flame smell food or spices can cause a flash fire. If you must use your oxygen while cooking, it is probably best to let someone else do the cooking on a gas appliance. 

Organize your kitchen so that plates, bowls, and utensils are as handy as possible to your food preparation area. To save energy, you might set out the items that you will need ahead of time.  

Meals that Save Time and Effort 

While coping with COPD, you or someone who helps you might worry about the time and effort that it takes to prepare healthy meals, and with good reason! Preparing protein-rich, nourishing food can take time. Fortunately, several online sites provide recipes that cut preparation time and effort. 

The Lung Health Institute lists Quick COPD Recipes that are healthy and can easily be prepared in larger quantities. They also list a few other recipes: Healthy Recipes for Lung Disease and Healthy COPD Recipes. 

1st Class Medical offers an 8-page PDF document, “COPD Meal Plan and Recipes,” for downloading. 

For healthy, no-cook salad recipes, check out Salad Recipes to Sooth COPD Symptoms. 

Where to Get Your Food 

Shopping for food to include in a COPD-friendly diet can be time-consuming and frustrating. Still, there are some things you can consider to reduce some of the hassle. 

Especially if you have someone to help you, shopping for food at your local farmer’s market can be a godsend. Many local farmers can provide organic, non-GMO produce that is fresh and flavorful.  

Most grocery stores, even the large chains, now offer whole foods that are healthier than processed foods. You can usually find organic, non-GMO items that eliminate chemicals and pesticides that might be harmful. Nevertheless, even when shopping for whole foods, be sure to read nutrition labels to avoid excessive sodium, sugars, and other additives. 

You might also have groceries delivered to your door via your grocer or another third party. That will save the time it takes to shop for groceries and leave you more energy to prepare meals that you will enjoy.