Reviewed by Irina Petrache, MD, Russell P. Bowler, MD, PhD
Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight are important parts of managing COPD.

While it can be difficult to focus on this aspect of your life, eating well plays a big role in feeling good and staying healthy when you have COPD. Avoid highly processed foods, especially processed meats and foods that contain trans-fat.

If you are underweight, focus on gaining muscle weight. The average person requires approximately 50 calories per day for breathing. Individuals with COPD may expend 750 calories per day on breathing alone. This increases daily calorie requirements making it difficult to maintain weight.

If you are overweight, focus on losing weight. There are many benefits of weight loss for those with COPD, including reducing shortness of breath by decreasing pressure on the diaphragm and respiratory muscles. A good weight loss program for COPD should include a variety of foods and physical activity.

Talk with your health care provider about your ideal weight.

 

Nutrition Tips for Gaining Muscle Mass & Weight

The best way to gain weight is to eat more. However, people with COPD often feel full after eating a small amount of food. If this is happening to you, try to eat smaller amounts more often. In addition, try to add calories to everything you eat with extra sauces and gravies. Here are some tips for weight gain when you have COPD:

  • Eat five to six small meals a day, and snack whenever you are hungry.

  • Keep favorite foods on hand for snacking.

  • Fat is a concentrated source of calories. Vegetable oil, dairy or nut butters can increase the calorie content of any food.

  • Use higher calorie versions of foods you eat if weight gain is desired.

  • Avoid “lite” products (skim milk, low-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, etc.).

  • Don’t fill up on fluids. Drink fluids between meals rather than with meals. Drinking during a meal can make you feel full quickly.

  • Avoid filling up on low-calorie foods like salad at mealtimes; instead eat the heartier foods first.

  • Choose nutritious drinks, such as whole milk, milkshakes and juices. Consider supplemental drinks such as Boost®, Ensure® or Scandishake®. Replace no calorie drinks, such as water, with calorie-containing fluids, such as whole milk.

  • Meet with a registered dietitian (RD) for additional advice on meal planning.

 

Nutrition Tips for Losing Weight

If weight loss is your goal, focus on establishing a plan that includes a variety of foods. Avoid using the word “diet,” as a diet is something you go on and then go off. Try to make healthy lifestyle changes you can maintain for the long term. A healthy rate of weight loss is ½ to 1 pound per week. Rapid weight loss usually results in loss of fluid or muscle rather than body fat.

Here are some weight loss tips for people with COPD:
  • Eat only when hungry

  • Include vegetables or fruit or grains with each meal.

  • Limit or eliminate snacks

  • Avoid sweetened beverages. This includes juice, soda and lemonade, to name a few.

  • Keep high fat or high sugar foods out of the house.

  • Limit serving sizes. Refer to the package for information on serving size.

  • Limit use of high calorie condiments such as butter, mayonnaise or high calorie salad dressings.

  • Increase levels of physical activity.

Meet with a registered dietitian (RD) for additional advice.

Reviewed by National Jewish Health dietitians January 2020.

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