Second Wind Lung Transplant Association

Facts About Pulmonary Disease and Eating

Good nutrition is essential , and more so when associated with pulmonary disease. It helps us to breath easier by keeping the diaphragm strong, as well as other respiratory muscles needed for breathing. Good nutrition will also make it easier for your body to fight off infection and will keep your bones stronger. However, eating well can be difficult when associated with pulmonary disease. The information below may help you understand the benefits of eating well, the difficulty associated with it and pulmonary disease, and how to reach and maintain good nutrition while living with pulmonary disease.

Difficulties of eating well with Pulmonary disease

  • Eating involves the use of many muscles.
    When muscles work, oxygen is used. A person who is already short of breath may feel more short of breath when eating.
  • When food is eaten, it must be used by the body.
    This is called digestion and metabolism. The action of the body using the food requires more work of breathing.
  • The Diaphragm.
    The Diaphragm is a muscle between the lungs and abdomen. It moves up and down as your lungs fill with air and empty out. A full stomach pushes against the diaphragm making it difficult for the diaphragm to move. As a result the lungs do not fill with air easily causing shortness of breath.
  • Energy Requirement.
    Some people with lung disease require more energy from food than normal because of their increased work of breathing. Weight loss occurs when the body does not receive the extra energy ( Calories) it needs to breath harder.
  • Medications.
    Bronchodilators can cause feelings of nausea for a short time after taking the medicine. Other medications, sputum , and even the use of oxygen can alter your taste and /or smell of food. This will lead to a decrease in appetite.
  • Steroids. 
    People taking steroids can have problems with loss of muscle and loss of calcium from bones. Fluid retention and weight gain can also be problems associated with steroids.

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What can be done to make eating Less Difficult?

  • Choose foods wisely.
    You need a well balanced diet with a lot of fluids. Eating a well balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from all food groups each day.
  • Split up your meals.
    Eat six, small meals each day instead of three large meals.
  • Rest.
    Rest before eating.
  • Try to Regulate your Breathing.
    Try to keep your breathing even while you chew. If you need to relax, stop eating. Take a few breaths and then continue with your meal. Sit in a chair with back support.
  • Don’t Skip a meal.
    If you are very short of breath or too busy in the morning, it’s better to have a liquid instant breakfast than to skip the meal.
  • Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating.
    Foods, such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, dried beans, beer, and carbonated beverages can cause gas and bloating.
  • Choose foods that are easy to prepare.
    If you use all your energy to cook, you may feel to tired too eat the meal.
  • Drink at least 8 cups of fluid a day.
    This includes juice , milk, water, fruit drinks, etc. Plenty of fluids may help keep mucus thin.

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What can be done if you are talking Steroids?

Steroids, such as prednisone, cause loss of calcium from bones which can lead to osteoporosis. This is a condition in which bones become week and brittle. The bones break very easily and there is much bone pain.

When taking steroids , increase your calcium intake to at least 1500 mg per day. This can be done by having at least 2 or 3 servings of milk and milk products each day along with a calcium supplement. Your dietitian can help you choose what kind and how much extra calcium you should take, if any.

Some people with pulmonary disease believe that milk increases mucus or breathing difficulty. Milk does not do this. Milk , especially whole milk, may coat the back of the throat and make secretions feel thicker. Drinking skim milk or rinsing the mouth with water after drinking milk will prevent this problem.

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What can be done to Prevent Weight Loss?

Dietary fat is very high in calories. It also may require less work of breathing to be used by the body. Therefore, increasing fat in the diet is a good way to easily get more calories in your diet. If you have concerns regarding your cholesterol level and increasing dietary fat, discuss these concerns with your dietitian. Ask your health care provider for a referral for dietary advice, if needed. Knowledge is power!

  • Drink MILK.
    Drink whole or 2% milk instead of skim. Add skim milk powder (2 Tbsp) to 8 oz.milk to add protein.
  • Use milk & not water.
    Consider this when making soups, cereals, instant puddings, cocoa or canned soups.
  • Drink Calorie containing beverages.
    Drink juice instead of water.
  • Increase calories of your regular foods.
    Add margarine, butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise, gravies, or sauces to foods. Add cheese to your salads.
  • Be Consistent.
    Don’t skip meals or snacks! You should be as consistent with meals and snacks as you are with medications.
  • Talk with your dietitian
    Meet with your dietitian to help you develop a plan right for you to prevent weight loss.

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What Should you do if you have Undesired Weight Gain?

Sometimes weight loss is not the problem, but weight gain is. Extra pounds can interfere with your breathing and may cause you to use more oxygen. Losing weight may help make breathing easier. Ask your health care provider or transplant team to refer you to a dietitian early in your transplant journey and after your transplantation.

To help with weight loss, keep meals small, well balanced , but only 3 to 4 a day. Avoid fad diets. Have a regular exercise program with your doctors approval. Ask your dietitian for a well balanced , weight reducing meal plan.

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In summary

Eating well with Pulmonary disease will help make it easier for you to breath. It helps to keep the diaphragm strong as well as other respiratory muscles needed for breathing. Good nutrition will make it easier to fight off infections and will keep your bones strong as well.

Remember to:

  • Eat well, balanced meals.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • Be Consistent.

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