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Eat Well. Breathe Well.

Nutrition Advice for People with Asthma

An important part of a healthy lifestyle is good nutrition. Good nutrition involves choosing healthy foods that can work to heal and repair your body and make it stronger against disease.

It’s important to include a variety of foods in your diet. Each of the food groups provides nutrients that are important to you, and foods in one group can’t replace those in another. Choose a variety of foods within each food group, and eat small amounts of fats, oils, and sweets. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about your specific nutritional needs. If you have asthma, eating a healthy diet can help you feel and breathe better.

Managing Mealtime
Shortness of breath at mealtimes can make eating hard work. If you use all your energy preparing a healthy meal, you may find yourself unable to eat or enjoy what you have prepared. If you have asthma, it’s important to conserve your energy in order to get the most from your meals.

Many people with asthma feel more short of breath when their stomach is full. This is because the diaphragm cannot work as well when the stomach is full. You can satisfy your nutritional needs, keep your stomach comfortable, and help your diaphragm to work better by eating smaller, more frequent meals. Eating small, frequent meals also reduces the chance of reflux. In addition, plan to eat before you are too hungry or tired. It’s important to refuel before you hit empty.

If you have asthma, eating a healthy diet can help you feel and breathe better.

Relax at mealtime. Breathe evenly while you are chewing and eating. Stop eating if you need to catch your breath.

Use prepared foods to save time and energy in the kitchen. Frozen meals, prepared foods, or take-out meals from a restaurant can make your life easier. However, the sugar, salt, or fat content of these foods may be higher than homemade. Be sure to ask if you are following a special diet. You can also double or triple your favorite recipes when cooking to keep your freezer full for times when you don’t feel like cooking.

When it comes to meal preparation, do the tasks that require the most effort when you have the most energy. For example, many people would agree that grocery shopping is a tiring task. This chore can be done when you feel freshest, in the morning or after a rest. Better yet, have a friend or family member pick up your groceries for you.

Don’t stand in the kitchen when you can sit. Bring your chopping, cutting, and mixing projects over to the kitchen table and sit while you prepare the food, or keep a barstool by the kitchen counter.

Avoid that “too full” feeling by eating less of the foods that cause gas. Common offenders include asparagus, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carbonated drinks, cauliflower, cucumbers, melons, garlic, raw onions, peas, peppers, radishes, rutabagas, sausage, spicy foods, and turnips. Keep a food diary to find out if they are a problem for you.

Steroids and Nutrition
Some people with asthma take steroid pills on a regular basis. Steroid pills are strong medicines that decrease swollen airways. They also have some nutritional side effects to be aware of. Steroid therapy has the potential to interfere with the way the body uses specific nutrients, including calcium, potassium, sodium, protein, and vitamins D and C.

If you take steroid pills for asthma, it is very important to eat a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet can make up for some of the nutritional effects of steroid therapy.

Over a long period, steroid pills can increase the risk of osteoporosis (loss of calcium in the bones). Therefore, you should eat foods high in calcium, such as dairy products. In addition, limit salt and foods that are high in sodium, and decrease the amount of cholesterol and fats in your diet to prevent other side effects. Take certain supplements, such as calcium, and a multivitamin. Talk with your doctor or dietitian about specific concerns regarding steroids and your diet.

Asthma and Reflux
Many people with asthma also have gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD. In this condition, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach is weak, and stomach contents and acid back up into the esophagus. This may or may not cause symptoms. Many people with GERD can experience heartburn, pain, sore throat, swallowing problems, chronic cough, a choking sensation, and aspiration. Excess weight and dietary habits can contribute to reflux. Here are a few recommendations to decrease your risk of reflux and heartburn:

  • Lose weight. Excess pressure in the abdomen can cause stomach contents to back up into the esophagus.
  • Avoid overeating. Choose several small meals rather than three large meals.
  • Avoid eating for two to three hours prior to bending over or lying down.
  • Avoid foods that aggravate reflux, including fatty foods, citrus and tomatocontaining products, chocolate, mint, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.

Source: National Jewish Health,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2012.