Eating well with a lung condition

Why is my diet important?

It’s important to eat a nutritionally balanced and varied diet, and to maintain a healthy body weight. If you have a lung condition, eating well is especially important. Foods and fluids contain essential nutrients to help prevent infections and keep your lungs healthy.

On this page:

What is a balanced diet?

Eating a well-balanced diet can help control your symptoms and keep you feeling as strong and fit as possible. A well balanced diet includes five key food groups. The ‘eatwell guide’ below shows these groups.

View the full eatwell guide (PDF, 2MB) or go to the NHS Choices website for the interactive eatwell guide.

Each of these food groups helps keep you and your lungs healthy:

  • Fruit and vegetables have vitamins and minerals that boost your immune system to help you fight off chest infections. Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day. 
  • Starchy carbohydrates give your body energy for breathing and other tasks. They include foods like potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, noodles and chapattis. Choose high fibre or wholegrain versions, such as brown pasta and rice or wholemeal bread. They’ll make you feel fuller for longer, protect your heart and keep your bowels moving. Try to choose versions with less added fat, salt and sugar. 
  • Protein helps to keep your muscles strong, including your chest muscles that help your ribs expand as you breathe. It’s also important for your immune system. Eat more beans and pulses and 2 portions of sustainably sourced fish per week, one of which is oily. Eat less red and processed meat. 
  • Dairy foods are a good source of proteins, vitamins and minerals – including calcium for healthy bones. Calcium is important if you take steroids, which increase the risk of brittle bones or osteoporosis. Choose lower fat and lower sugar options. 
  • Oils contain a range of vitamins, such as vitamins A and E which are important for fighting infections. Choose unsaturated oils and use in small amounts. 

Fact or fiction? Milk and mucus

You might worry that if you drink milk or eat cheese, butter 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 after drinking or eating milk products.

If you have problems with cow’s milk, try other milks such as:

  • goat or sheep’s milk
  • rice milk
  • soya milk
  • oat milk
  • coconut-based milk
  • almond milk

Always consult a health professional before making any changes to your diet. This will make sure you find suitable alternatives to get all the nutrients you need.

How much water do I need to drink?

It is very important to drink plenty of fluid. This helps keep mucus moving.  If mucus sits in your airways and lungs, you are more likely to get an infection.

Aim to drink a minimum of six to eight cups of fluid a day. This can include water, tea, coffee, milk, squash or fruit juice.

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. Some extra individual vitamins are sometimes recommended, check with your health professional or pharmacist.

Vitamin D

Recently there’s been a government recommendation that UK adults should consider taking a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D, especially in winter.

Vitamin D works with calcium and phosphorous in your body for healthy bones, muscles and teeth, and most of it comes from sunshine.

Some people are more at risk of becoming vitamin D deficient, and should consider taking extra vitamin D all year round:

  • 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, such as those who can’t leave the house, who work indoors or work night shifts
  • pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers

For more information on healthy eating go to the British Dietetic Association food facts website. You can also find details of your local council and ask about food delivery services near you on the website.

Next: How can my diet affect my symptoms? >

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