The best and worst foods for healthy lungs

By | March 26, 2024

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Fisher, RD

Diet, exercise and avoiding pollutants are the best ways to care for your lungs. An inflammatory diet can take a toll on your organs over time. Systemic (body-wide) inflammation is associated with lung diseases such as asthma.

People with certain conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis (a chronic condition that causes lung scarring), may also experience a significant effect on their quality of life. However, lifestyle adjustments such as diet can help protect the lungs.

This article discusses foods that promote healthy lungs and which foods to avoid.

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Lung-strengthening foods

Certain foods that contain healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates, as well as fruits and vegetables, can strengthen your lungs.

Healthy fats

Eating foods with more fats can help you breathe easier. This is because when your body metabolizes fat, it produces the least carbon dioxide for the oxygen used, making it easier to breathe.

Researchers found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood were associated with a reduced risk of lung function decline and better lung function.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:

Fortified foods, such as eggs, yogurt, cow’s milk, soy milk and juice, may also contain omega-3 fatty acids.


Protein helps keep your breathing muscles strong and healthy. Research shows that diets high in protein are associated with good lung function.

Protein foods include:

  • Seafood

  • Meat

  • Poultry

  • Eggs

  • Legumes

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Soy products

Complex carbohydrates

People who follow a low-carb diet have a reduced risk of COPD. That’s because, unlike fats, the body produces more carbon dioxide when it metabolizes carbohydrates, which decreases lung function.

When choosing carbohydrates, stick to complex carbohydrates, which take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates. Some good choices include whole grains, starchy vegetables, lentils, kidney beans and garbanzo beans.

Fresh products

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins that are good for the lungs. Researchers found that the following vitamins are linked to lung health:

Because of vitamin D’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, this nutrient may be especially beneficial for lung health. While not many fruits and vegetables contain much of this vitamin, several mushrooms do.

Related: Top Foods Rich in Vitamin D


Potassium may have a protective effect against lung cancer. In addition, hypokalemia (low potassium levels) is common in people with an acute exacerbation of COPD (worsening symptoms). Maintaining adequate potassium levels is important. Good food sources for potassium include bananas, avocados, milk, legumes and salmon.

Foods to promote lung health

Some of the best food choices for improving lung health include apples, beets and leafy greens.


Apples are a “superfood” (food considered nutrient-rich) when it comes to lung health. A study found that apples and tomatoes can slow the decline of lung function in adults, especially among former smokers.


Try beetroot juice for healthy lungs. In one study, participants with pulmonary arterial hypertension were given nitrate-rich beet juice or a placebo (an ineffective treatment given to people in a control group) for a week. The beet juice group had improved lung function compared to placebo.


Pumpkin is rich in antioxidants, zinc and iron. Researchers found that this vegetable can help acute respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 due to its immunity-boosting properties.


The same study that found apples had a positive impact on lung health also found that tomatoes benefit the lungs. Participants who consumed tomatoes had a delayed decline in lung function. Researchers believe lycopene (a plant chemical called carotenoid) in tomatoes is thanks.

Leafy vegetables

High consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of lung disease. Green leafy vegetables are the main source of nitrate in the human diet. Research shows that nitrate supplements help people with COPD with the following:

Related: How to Get Your Veggies From Leafy and Non-Leafy Vegetables

Foods to avoid if you have lung disease

You may need to avoid certain foods if you have COPD. Most of these foods are generally less nutritious.

Salty foods

One study showed that excess sodium increases the risk of lung cancer. However, the link between sodium and lung cancer risk is unclear. One theory is that it increases inflammation in the lungs, which is associated with a risk of lung cancer.


Although dairy is an excellent source of vitamin D, it is also high in fats, which have mixed effects on lung function. One study found that the intake of high-fat dairy products had a negative impact on lung function. However, intake of low-fat dairy products was associated with improved lung density. When choosing dairy, stick to low-fat options.

Processed meat

Eating large amounts of processed meat, including bacon, ham, corned beef, lunch meat and sausage, was associated with poorer lung function. Cured meats were linked to newly diagnosed COPD and worsening COPD symptoms.

Researchers think this may be due to the nitrites in highly processed meat, which cause pneumonia and DNA damage.

Soft drink

A study found that consuming soft drinks can reduce lung function and cause asthma in adults. This connection is believed to be due to the way soft drinks increase inflammation.

fried food

Researchers found that fried foods and smoked foods are independent risk factors for lung cancer. In combination with smoking and alcohol consumption, the risk is even greater.

Lung-damaging foods to avoid

To keep lungs healthy, additional foods to avoid include refined carbohydrates, beer, chips and more.

White bread

White bread is considered a simple carbohydrate, which breaks down and digests quickly. One study shows that a diet high in refined foods, including white bread, was associated with greater decline in lung function.

Potato chips

As a fried food, chips provide little nutritional value, being high in sodium and saturated fat. Because fried and salty foods increase the risk of lung cancer, it’s best to avoid these snacks.

Milk chocolate

Unsweetened natural cocoa powder contains anti-asthmatic compounds. However, most chocolate (especially milk chocolate) is packed with other ingredients, especially sugar and milk. This makes milk chocolate a bad choice for the lungs. Choose dark chocolate instead.


People with alcohol use disorder are more likely to develop the following respiratory diseases:

People with alcohol use disorder have reduced immunity. Because alcohol is an inflammatory food, it can lead to inflammation, including the lungs. If you have lung disease, it may be best to abstain from alcohol.


Lunch meat falls on the list of highly processed meats. Avoiding processed meats is best because these foods are associated with decreased lung function and COPD. Instead, opt for sliced ​​whole chicken breast or leftover turkey for sandwiches.


If you have lung disease or want to reduce your risk of respiratory disease, diet can be great medicine. Choose healthy foods packed with the vitamins and minerals your body needs, such as leafy greens, squash and apples. Avoid foods that are generally less nutritious and promote inflammation, such as refined carbohydrates, fried foods and soda.

Read the original article about Verywell Health.

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