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Eating well for healthier lungs

Commonly asked questions about your diet

This page answers frequently asked questions from people with lung conditions.

On this page:

Do I need to take vitamins?

Most people can get everything they need to be healthy by eating a varied, well-balanced diet, so don’t need to take a multivitamin tablet. However, if your diet is restricted or limited in variety you might need to take a multivitamin or mineral tablet. If you’re concerned, check with your health care professional or pharmacist.

Vitamin D

The government recommends UK adults should consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D, especially in winter months.

Some people are more at risk of becoming vitamin D deficient. They include:

  • people over 65 as their skin is less good at making vitamin D
  • people with darker skin tones, including those of Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean and Middle Eastern descent
  • people who always cover most of their skin when they’re outside
  • people who spend very little time outside during the summer months, such as those who can’t leave the house, who work indoors or work night shifts
  • pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers

Vitamin D works with calcium and phosphorus in your body for healthy bones, muscles and teeth, and most of it comes from sunshine. Vitamin D is also linked to mood and immunity. Ask your health care professional to check if you have a vitamin D deficiency and if a supplement may help you.

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchiectasis and get frequent chest infections, a vitamin D supplement may reduce your risk of getting future chest infections if you are deficient. However, for some people with lung conditions, such as those with sarcoidosis, vitamin D supplements are not advisable.

Talk to your health care professional to ask if a vitamin D supplement is suitable for you before you consider taking extra vitamin D.

Fact or fiction?  Milk and mucus

You might worry that if you drink milk or eat cheese or yoghurt, you’ll produce more mucus. However, there’s not enough scientific evidence to support this concern. So you should include dairy foods in your diet unless you’ve been diagnosed with an allergy.

If you do find dairy makes your mucus stickier or harder to shift, try rinsing your mouth and drinking a little water or fruit juice after drinking or eating milk products.

I get out of breath when I eat

Sometimes people with lung conditions feel too breathless to eat very much.

Top tips

  • If you struggle to eat and breathe, go for softer, moist foods that are easier to chew and swallow. Using a slow cooker or cooking casseroles tenderises foods, so you don’t have to chew as much and eating and breathing is easier. You can also prepare these meals in advance at a time when you have more energy or are less fatigued.
  • Try having more nourishing liquids such as milk, smoothies, juice and soups.
  • Breathing can sometimes become harder after eating a large meal. Try eating smaller meals and snacks more often.
  • Take time when you eat. Try to swallow every mouthful before going on to the next. This is especially important if you have a chest infection. Breathlessness can make it harder for you to swallow safely. If you have trouble swallowing or notice you are coughing when eating and drinking because you feel food or drink is going down the wrong way, talk to your health care professional.

If you’re losing weight without planning to or are struggling to eat enough, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe a nutritional supplement or recommend nourishing drinks. They may also refer you to a dietitian for further advice.

My mouth is dry

A dry mouth can be caused by breathing through your mouth, taking some inhaled medications and using oxygen.

Top tips

  • Make sure you drink enough fluids– at least 6 to 8 cups a day. If your appetite is low or you feel full quickly, take sips of fluid to keep your mouth moist whilst eating, and drink the rest of your fluids between meals. Have a glass of water at your bedside that you can drink if you wake in the night with a dry mouth. Take a water bottle out with you so you keep hydrated.
  • Eat more soft foods, use more sauces such as gravy and cheese sauce, and eat moist dishes like stews or casseroles.
  • After using inhalers, remember to rinse your mouth out and gargle with water.
  • Look after your teeth and mouth by brushing your teeth regularly and using dental floss. Avoid using mouthwash that contains alcohol, as this can dry out your mouth.
  • Try sugar-free gum or mints or sweets, frozen grapes, pineapple or orange segments to help you produce more saliva.
  • Smoking and alcohol can irritate a dry mouth. Try to reduce or avoid these.
  • If your dry mouth causes soreness or problems with eating, tell your doctor. They can prescribe products that help you produce saliva.

If you have problems swallowing your food, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a speech and language therapist for a swallowing assessment.

My sense of taste has changed

A dry mouth can also affect your taste. Experiment with herbs, spices, chutneys and pickles. Sauces and oils can help enhance and carry the flavours of your food. If you go off a particular food, try it another time as your tastes may continue to change.

I feel bloated and have trapped wind

If you’re breathless, you may gulp air when you eat. This causes bloating. Talk to your doctor, as bloating is a symptom of many conditions.

Top tips

  • Eat in a relaxed environment and sit upright while eating and for up to half an hour after.
  • Don’t rush, and make sure you chew your food well.
  • Try to limit fizzy drinks.
  • Cut down on foods that you find produce more gas such as cabbage, sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and beans.
  • Try using peppermint. It can be taken as a tea, a cordial or a capsule.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try to be as physically active as you can.

Next: following a restricted diet >>

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