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Healthy Food for Healthy Lungs

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Senior man and senior woman tasting food together in a kitchen.

Maintaining your overall health is essential to feeling your best as you grow older. Unfortunately, as we age, we may inevitably succumb to age-related illnesses and diseases that are beyond our control. One essential organ that can easily become affected by outside factors is the lungs. Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis are all common lung conditions that can negatively affect your quality of life. Although a complete cure may not be possible, there are steps you can take to aid the health of the organ which includes eating an anti-inflammatory diet that's directed to that specific organ: the lungs.

Beets and Beet Greens – The vibrantly colored beetroot and its greens are rich in nitrates which have been proven to promote lung function. Nitrates are compounds that help relax blood vessels, reduce blood pressure and optimize your oxygen uptake. Beetroot supplements have shown positive improvements to physical performance and the function of the lungs in people with lung conditions. Plus, beet greens are rich in magnesium, potassium, vitamin c and carotenoid antioxidants – all which are essential to lung health.

Bell Peppers – Bell Peppers are amongst the richest sources of vitamin C which is an important vitamin to indulge in, especially for those who smoke. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant within your body. Smoking is thought to have damaging effects on your body’s antioxidant reserves, therefore, professionals recommend people who smoke should consume an extra 35 mg of vitamin C every day.

Fact: One medium-sized sweet red bell pepper contains 169% of the recommended intake of vitamin C.

Apples – This sweet treat has a high concentration of antioxidants, including flavonoids and vitamin C, which has been associated with a lower risk of lung cancer and asthma. Researchers have discovered that regularly eating apples can promote lung function, aid in slowing the decline in lung function in ex-smokers and reduce the risk of developing COPD.

Pumpkin – The tasty flesh of the pumpkin is rich in a variety of carotenoid compounds that promote lung health, including beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds are powerful antioxidants and contain anti-inflammatory properties. Research has shown that higher blood levels of carotenoids are linked to better lung function. It is found that smokers have a 25% lower concentration of carotenoid antioxidants compared to nonsmokers, so it is highly recommended that smokers indulge in foods rich in carotenoids.

Turmeric – This golden root is rich in powerful antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin, which is the main active component in turmeric, may be the compound to thank for supporting lung function. Research suggests that smokers who have a high curcumin intake have a 9.2% greater lung function compared to those smokers who did not consume curcumin.

Tomato & Tomato Products – Lycopene is a beneficial carotenoid antioxidant that supports lung function and the tomato is one of the richest sources of it in the world. Studies show that consuming tomatoes and their by-products can help reduce airway inflammation in people with asthma and improve lung function in people with COPD.

Blueberries – This magical little blue berry is loaded with nutrients and is associated with numerous health benefits including preserving and protecting the function of the lungs. Blueberries are high in anthocyanins which are important compounds that help prevent diseases due to their anti-inflammatory effects. Anthocyanins have been found to protect lungs from oxidative damage.

A study showed that a group of veterans that consumed 2 servings of blueberries a week slowed the decline of lung function by 38% compared to those who consumed low to no blueberries a week.

Green Tea – Green tea has been known to provide total body health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties and may inhibit fibrosis or scarring of tissues. It’s high in a chemical compound called epigallocatechin gallate which has been found to positively affect the outcome of disease.

Red Cabbage – Red cabbage is an affordable and rich source of anthocyanins which has been linked to the reduced decline of lung functions.

Olive Oil – Rich in anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin E, olive oil can help prevent respiratory conditions like asthma. The Mediterranean diet, which contains copious amounts of olive oil, has benefited the lung function of smokers as well as people with COPD and asthma.

Oysters – Oysters are loaded with many nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, selenium and copper. It has been studied that people with higher levels of selenium and copper have better lung function. Plus, smoking depletes certain B vitamins, which happens to be concentrated in oysters.

Yogurt – Calcium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium are all nutrients found to benefit lung function and protect against COPD, and yogurt happens to be high in all of them.

Brazil Nuts Among the richest sources of selenium, a single brazil nut may contain over 150% of the recommended daily intake for this important nutrient.

Studies suggest that high selenium intake may help protect against lung cancer, enhance respiratory function and improve immune function and antioxidant defenses.

Tip: It’s recommended to keep your brazil nut intake to one or two nuts per day due to its high concentration of many nutrients such as selenium.

Barley This nutritious grain, which is high in fiber, has been shown to have a protective effect on lung function and reduce the mortality risk of lung-related diseases. Barley is also high in antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin E which promote lung health and protect against cellular damage.

Anchovies Anchovies are small fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and can be beneficial for people with inflammatory lung diseases like COPD. They are also packed with lung health-promoting nutrients like selenium, calcium and iron.

It’s important for smokers and non-smokers alike to start incorporating foods from the list above to promote lung function and reduce the inflammatory response within the body. There are several tasty recipes available today including our healthy archive of recipes (here) that can help you start incorporating these delicious, lung-healthy lists of ingredients.


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