The need for a healthy diet is something that every person shares, young and old, sick and healthy, and everything in between. However, the importance of good nutrition grows as we get older, and it becomes critical for many people living with chronic diseases like COPD.
People with COPD need to be particularly careful to get enough calories and nutrients to support their lungs and other body processes that are affected by the disease. COPD also makes you prone to a variety of diet-related problems, including under-nutrition, weight gain, and weight loss.
However, health and nutrition can get complicated, and sticking to a healthy diet isn't an easy thing to do. If you're like many people, the idea of putting together a healthy, well-balanced meal might feel intimidating, or you might not even quite know where to begin.
That's why we've put together this guide to help people with COPD plan healthy meals and get all the nutrition they need. In this post, we explain not only what a healthy COPD diet looks like, but we also show you how to put together healthy meals on the fly at home.
We also present a variety of practical meal ideas and examples of healthy and versatile dishes you can prepare on your own and modify as you please. These, along with the additional guides and helpful resources linked throughout this guide, should give you everything you need to get started eating a healthier diet that improves—rather than exacerbates—your COPD.
The Cornerstones of Good Nutrition for COPD
Before we start looking at some specific COPD-healthy dishes and meal plans, it's important to have a general grasp of what a healthy diet for someone with COPD looks like. That doesn't mean you have to be a diet guru, but you should know some general principles of nutrition and how to put together a balanced meal.
You should also be aware of the different ways that your diet and eating habits can affect your COPD and worsen symptoms like shortness of breath. We'll address these and a variety of other important dietary considerations in the sections below before we dive into our list of healthy meal examples and some practical diet recommendations for people with COPD.
Balance Your Food Groups (Protein, Fat, & Carbs)
If you look up nutritional guidelines—which you can find online from a variety of government and health organizations—they contain a list of all the vital components that make up a healthy diet. They tell you everything from what categories of food to eat, down to the exact amount of vitamins and minerals you should take in on a daily basis.
Because this information is readily available from lots of great sources, we're not going to go into them in great detail here. However, we do want to highlight some of the most important principles you need to know in order to learn how to create balanced, nutritious meals.
First, you should strive for a healthy balance of the three major macronutrients in your diet: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (also known as carbs). Health experts recommend spreading out your daily calories between these nutrient groups, aiming for the following (approximate) percentages:
- About 20% of your diet should come from protein; high-protein foods include meats, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, and soy.
- About 30% of your diet should come from fat; this includes fats found naturally in foods like dairy, meat, eggs, and nuts, and also added fats like butter and vegetable oils.
- About 50% of your diet should come from carbs, which are found in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains—however, people with COPD may benefit from a diet with fewer carbs (we discuss this in more detail the next section just below)
Healthy Sources of Nutrients
Second, you should be familiar with which foods from each of these nutrients groups are more or less healthy to eat. Here are a few examples of some healthy vs unhealthy sources of protein, fat, and carbs:
- Whole grain carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain breads and pastas) are healthier than simple, refined grains (e.g. white pastas and breads).
- Lean proteins (e.g. chicken and fish) and unprocessed meats are generally healthier than fatty proteins (e.g. beef and lamb) and processed meats (e.g. sausage, deli meat, and other cured meats).
- Unsaturated fats (e.g. oils and other fats that are liquid at room temperature) are generally healthier for you and your heart than saturated fats (e.g. butter, lard, and other fats that are solid at room temperature).
Major Food Groups and Serving Sizes
Third, you should know what the basic, top-level food groups are and how many portions of each you should eat each day. Keep in mind that what counts as a single portion varies among different types of food within the group.
You can learn more about correct serving sizes on choosemyplate.gov and in the table just below.
Here's an overview of what US guidelines for daily servings say:
1.5 to 2 cups per day
A1 cup serving of fruit is equivalent to about 1 cup of raw or cooked fruit, 1 cup of 100% fruit juice, or one cup of dried fruit.
2 to 3 cups per day
A 1 cup serving of vegetables is equivalent to about 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens.
3 to 8 one ounce equivalents per day, with at least half coming from whole grains
A 1 oz equivalent of grains is equal to about one slice of bread, one tortilla, 1 cup of dry cereal, or ½ cup of pasta, rice, or oatmeal.
5.5 to 6 1-oz equivalents per day
A 1 oz equivalent of protein is equal to about 1 oz of meat,1 egg, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, ½ oz of nuts and seeds, and 1 oz of meat.
3 cups per day
A 1 cup serving is equivalent to about 1.5 oz of natural cheese, 2 oz of processed cheese, or 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk.
No more than 5 to 7 teaspoons of oil and fats per day
You can find a helpful table listing the amount of oils and fats in all kinds of common foods on this page from Choose My Plate.
As you plan your meals and snacks, make it your goal to choose foods that help you fulfill the daily requirements for each food group. You don't have to be perfect, either; approximating your portions and and getting as close as possible to these targets is a perfectly healthy goal.
Foods and Ingredients to Avoid
Finally, you should know what kinds of foods are unhealthy, or unhealthy in large amounts, and do your best to limit them in your diet. These include things like excess sodium, too many simple carbs, added oils, added sugar, and trans-fats.
Foods and Ingredients to Avoid:
- Fried foods
- Heavily processed foods
- Sugary drinks
- Foods high in salt
- Foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates
- Foods high in saturated fats
- All sources of trans fats
- Foods with added oils and fats
- Too much caffeine
- Too much alcohol
Limit Carbohydrates for Better Breathing
Most people with COPD don't need to follow a special diet, and should be perfectly healthy following the general nutritional guidelines set by the USDA. However, there is one notable exception: some people with COPD may benefit from a diet with fewer carbohydrates.
Because of the nature of how the body processes carbohydrates, eating carbs causes your body to produce more carbon dioxide than when you eat proteins or fats. Because carbon dioxide is a waste product that has to be processed by the lungs, high-carb foods put extra strain on your respiratory system, forcing your lungs to work harder and use up more energy.
If you have COPD, this translates to increased shortness breath, since your damaged lungs are already struggling to process oxygen and carbon dioxide fast enough to meet your body's needs. In fact, studies show that relatively small changes in carbohydrate consumption can have significant effects on COPD symptoms, with more carbs causing notable increases in breathlessness and reduced exercise tolerance.
Because of this, a low-carbohydrate diet can be beneficial for people with COPD, improving their lungs' efficiency and reducing shortness of breath. That means reducing your intake of high-carbohydrate foods (such as grains, beans, and carb-heavy fruits and veggies), and replacing them with low-carb alternatives and more healthy proteins and fats.
You'll find more tips for reducing carbs later on in this guide, both in our sample meal ideas and in our section on practical diet & cooking tips.
Aim for Variety
Although daily diet recommendations can get very specific, that doesn't mean you need to go overboard tracking every little thing, nor do you need to stress about meeting the exact targets every single day. Unless you have specific instructions from a doctor or dietitian, getting the right balance of nutrients on average is perfectly acceptable, and will prevent the vast majority of nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, most people are able to get a sufficient amount (PDF link) of vitamins and nutrients without tracking their diet too closely. That's because, in general, most people eat a wide enough variety of foods to supply their bodies with everything they need.
Of course, this laissez-faire approach won't work if your diet is too unbalanced. If you're not careful, a diet that's too heavy in one thing or too light in another can lead to nutrient deficiencies, which can be particularly dangerous for people with COPD.
An easy way to prevent this, however, is to always strive for variety in your diet. That means not only eating plenty of nutritious foods, but also eating a lot of different kinds of healthy foods with different types of micronutrients, which include vitamins, minerals, and metals like iron and zinc.
It helps to familiarize yourself with the various food sub-categories, which are simply smaller groups within a food group that have similar nutrient profiles. For example, the USDA divides vegetables into 5 separate categories and recommends that you eat a certain amount from each group every week.
Here is a summary of the weekly vegetable sub-group guidelines for adults:
- Dark green vegetables: 1.5 to 2 cups per week
- Red & orange vegetables: 4 to 6 cups per week
- Starchy vegetables: 5 to 6 cups per week
- Beans and Peas: 1 to 2 cups per week
- Other vegetables: 3.5 to 5 cups per week
Knowing these different subgroups makes it easier to ensure that you pick out foods that come from a variety of different groups, instead of just one or two. Maintaining this kind of diversity in your diet will help you ensure that your body gets all the micronutrients it needs to fuel your lungs and keep your body strong.
Here are a couple links to more information about food groups and subgroups:
- A list of all the major food groups and sub-groups with examples of several foods for each category
- A list of common vegetables that belong to each of the 5 major vegetable subgroups
Choose Whole Foods When Possible
When you peruse all the boxed foods, frozen dinners, and other processed foods that make up the large part of grocery store shelves, it's often hard to tell what's good for you and what isn't. Even bold claims like “all natural” or “reduced fat” don't tell you much about a product's actual health, or what those claims even mean in the context of a well-balanced diet.
That's why it's best to cook your own meals at home using whole ingredients whenever possible. That means starting with basic ingredients that are as close as possible to their raw, natural state, such as whole fruits and vegetables, plain beans, and whole grains.
Your ingredients don't need to be “fresh” as long as they're are minimally processed and don't contain added ingredients like salt, oil, or sugar. Frozen fruits and veggies, for example, are just as good for you as the fresh (and more expensive) versions you'll find in the produce section.
Beware of Nutrient Deficiencies Associated with COPD
In ideal conditions, you could get all the nutrients you need just by eating a healthy diet. However, life is often far from ideal, and it's not always possible to get enough vitamins and minerals from the food you eat alone.
This is especially true for people with COPD, who often struggle to get enough nutrients due to both the symptoms and the biological effects of the disease. According to COPD nutrition research, up to 40% of COPD patients are underweight and undernourished.
Certain types of deficiencies are more common in people with COPD than others, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron deficiency. People with disease are also especially prone to osteoporosis, which can be caused by deficiencies in both calcium and vitamin C.
Some of these nutrient deficiencies are directly related to COPD and the medications (such as steroids) used to treat it. Many of them are also associated with certain characteristics that COPD patients tend to have in common, such as age, tobacco smoking history, and other factors related to lifestyle and health.
Research also shows that undernourishment can have particularly severe consequences for people with COPD, including an increased risk of death and hospitalization, more frequent exacerbations. Poor nutrition is also associated with a variety of other negative COPD symptoms, such as reduced lung function, reduced muscle strength, increases shortness of breath, and declines in physical endurance.
Because of this, a large percentage of people with COPD need to take vitamin and/or mineral supplements to satisfy their body's nutritional needs. However, you shouldn't start using supplements without your doctor's permission; when you have a serious chronic condition like COPD, you should never take any new medicines or supplements without consulting your doctor first.
Seeing to your doctor also gives you the opportunity to undergo testing so you can know exactly what—if any—extra nutrients your body needs. Then your doctor can prescribe you the specific supplements you need in proper amounts to correct any deficiencies you currently have or that your doctor believes you are at risk for.
Know Your Calorie Requirements
Many people with COPD struggle with weight loss and undernourishment because of uncomfortable COPD symptoms that make it difficult to eat. However, another reason for malnutrition is simply not eating enough to make up for the extra calories burned through breathing, since lungs affected by COPD use up much more energy to breathe.
This extra energy has to come from somewhere, which is why people with COPD often need more calories and nutrients than the average healthy person. Because of this, many patients—especially those with advanced COPD—need to eat a high-calorie diet to satisfy their body's needs.
That's why, if you have COPD, it's important to talk to your doctor about your diet and to figure out how many daily calories you need to eat. If your doctor puts you on a high-calorie diet, make sure to take it seriously and do your best to meet your calorie target every day.
This can be difficult to do, especially if you're one of the many people with COPD who struggle with pain and breathlessness when you eat. However, there are a variety of strategies that can help, such as eating more frequent, smaller meals spaced out throughout the day (you can find more tips for adjusting to a high-calorie diet toward the end of this guide in the section on practical diet and cooking tips).
Make sure to consult your doctor if you're having trouble managing your diet on your own, and consider consulting a registered dietitian for more specialized help. Dietitians are trained to help people with special health and dietary considerations, and they can work with you to find solutions and put together a realistic diet plan that's tailored to your needs.
According to US dietary guidelines, you shouldn't eat more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day. However, because salt is ubiquitous in so many types of food, most people get far too much of it in their diet.
Unfortunately, too much salt is bad for your health in a variety of ways, increasing your risk for hypertension and heart disease. It's even more dangerous for older adults, and particularly people with COPD, who have a higher risk for age-related heart problems.
A high-salt diet can also cause water retention and bloating, which can worsen common COPD symptoms like breathlessness and chest discomfort. It can also make mealtimes more difficult if you have trouble eating enough food or struggle with shortness of breath when you eat.
Unfortunately, salt can be very difficult to avoid; many popular foods contain excessive amounts of sodium, especially processed foods and snacks. There are also many seemly-innocuous foods that have lots of hidden sodium, including canned foods, sports drinks, processed cheese, and cured meats.
Because of this, the most reliable way to reduce salt in your diet is to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Instead, cook at home with whole foods and ingredients that aren't pre-packed with added sodium.
Doing this gives you the opportunity to make recipes healthier by limiting how much salt (and other unhealthy ingredients) you add to your food. Home-cooking is also a great way to experiment with other flavorings that you can use to replace salt in your meals, such as herbs, spices, and aromatic ingredients like garlic, onion, and ginger.
To learn more about how to use herbs and spices in meals as a substitute for salt, check out this helpful PDF document from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH).
The Anatomy of a Healthy Meal
So far, we've covered most of the major principles pertaining to balancing your diet and choosing healthier foods. However, you can know all of these things and still feel a little unsure when it comes time to put it all together and construct a nutritious meal.
Luckily, structuring a well-balanced meal doesn't have to be complicated; all you have to do is remember a few simple guidelines. If you ever feel lost or in doubt, keep the following principles in mind:
Basic Components of a Healthy, Well-Balanced Meal (based on three main meals per day)
- Fruits and/or vegetables: Include about ½ cup to1 cup of fruits and/or veggies; they should make up at least half of your main dish.
- Protein: You should include about two ounces of protein from a lean protein source.
- Whole grains: Include about one serving per meal—a one ounce equivalent—of healthy whole grains (if you eat simple grains like white bread or rice instead, make sure they don't make up more than half of your daily grains).
- Dairy: Include about one one-cup serving (or 1.5 ounces of cheese) per meal.
- Avoid adding too much extra fat in the form of butter, cooking oil, gravy, or fatty sauces.
Keep in mind that these guidelines are flexible, and it's okay to vary your meal make-ups and distribute your food groups unevenly across meals. You should, however, try to achieve an overall balance in your diet as a whole throughout the day.
For example, if you skip some veggies in one meal, make sure to include an extra helping or two of veggies in one of your next meals. Or, if you have a carb-heavy meal with more than one serving of grains, try to make your next meal grain-free so you can focus on other food groups you haven't eaten enough of that day.
Meal Planning Ideas: Examples of Healthy Dishes for a Balanced COPD Diet
Now that you understand the basic principles of good COPD nutrition, let's look at some examples of simple, yet versatile dishes you could make for a healthier diet. These recipes should give you a better idea of what a balanced meal actually looks like, and give you some ideas for healthy meals you can make at home.
These recipes are designed to be highly customizable and include tips for modifying the meal in different ways, whether you're looking to add flavor, variety, or save yourself some cooking time. You'll also find a brief run-down of the dish's main health features to give you a better idea of what makes the meal a healthy, COPD-friendly choice.
Rice Bowls (aka Buddha Bowls) : A Classic Lunch & Dinner Staple
- Quick & easy
- Uses mainly whole ingredients
- Great for using up leftover veggies and meats
One of the best features of rice bowls is that they are extremely versatile; they work with a wide range of flavors and cuisines, and you can make them as simple or extravagant as you'd like. This makes it perfect as a lunch or dinner staple, and it's a great way to use up any leftover veggies and proteins you happen to have lying around your kitchen.
Although white rice is a simple carbohydrate, it's okay to eat in moderation, and you can always swap it out with a whole grain alternative like brown rice, quinoa, or barley. But as long as you stick to healthy ingredients, including lots of veggies and a lean protein source, a regular old white rice bowl can make a healthy, balanced meal.
You can also make this dish even more low-carb and COPD-friendly by keeping your veggie-to-rice-ratio high (meaning more veggies and protein and less rice). You could eliminate even more carbs by omitting the rice completely and turning it into a stir-fry or salad instead.
How to Put Together a Healthy Rice Bowl:
- Start with about ½ cup of grains, such as white or brown rice, whole grain barley, whole grain quinoa, or whole grain couscous. Alternatively, omit the grain and replace it with extra veggies or a bed of leafy greens.
- Add up to 1 cup of cooked veggies of your choice, such as steamed broccoli, carrots, peas, sauteed onion, baked or steamed zucchini, avocado, or chopped green onion.
- Add about 2 oz of lean protein, such as cooked lentils or beans, grilled salmon (or other fish), grilled chicken, baked tofu, chickpeas, or an egg (fried or scrambled).
- To add flavor:
- Instead of adding extra salt or oil, seasons your veggies and protein with some spices that pair well with your ingredient choices.
- Pour a tablespoon of a favorite sauce on top, but try to avoid anything too fatty or salty; try a flavorful vinegar like white wine or balsamic, or a low-sodium chili or soy sauce.
Additional Components to Round Out the Meal:
- Add dairy by drinking1 cup of low fat milk or soymilk with the meal.
- Alternatively, grate about 1.5 oz of cheese on top or slice it to eat on the side.
Rice Bowl Recipes to Try:
- Asparagus, Mandarin Orange, Chicken and Rice Recipe
- Hearty Tropical Buddha Bowl with Pineapple & Shrimp
- Sweet Potato Chickpea Buddha Bowl (grain free!)
- Vegan Veggie Buddha Bowl with Quinoa, Tofu, & Avocado
- Here is a list of several more healthy grain bowl variations from Cooking Light.
Colorful Egg & Veggie Scramble: A Hearty and Healthy Breakfast or Brunch
- Quick & Easy
- Extremely versatile
- Very low carb
- Uses all whole ingredients
- Great for using up extra produce before it goes bad
Eggs are a great source of protein, and there are so many delicious ways to combine them with various vegetables and proteins. Cooking them together in a scramble is one of the easiest and quickest ways to do it, and you can easily save on clean-up by making it a one-pan meal.
This meal is also very easy to prepare; all you have to do is roughly chop up whatever vegetable and protein ingredients you want to use. After that, the actual cooking is as quick and easy as can be.
This makes egg scrambles a great everyday meal option for people with COPD who have limited energy and endurance to spend prepping, cleaning, and slaving over the stove. Simple, versatile meals like this can be a lifesaver when you're constantly fighting against breathlessness and fatigue.
The cooking technique is simple: simply throw all your veggies and proteins together to cook in one big frying pan (or you could even leave the veggies raw if you prefer). Once they are nearly done cooking, add your eggs to the pan and stir it all together until the egg is fully cooked through.
You can reduce the cholesterol and fat in this meal by using egg whites instead of whole eggs, and add variation by switching up which types of vegetables or proteins you use. You can also keep this meal exciting by cooking and preparing the same basic ingredients in different ways:
- Make a hearty omelet by cooking the eggs separately from the other ingredients and adding an ounce or two of cheese.
- Instead of scrambling the eggs, make a frittata: simply stir the eggs in with the other ingredients the pan before covering it with a lid and letting it cook all the way through.
- Make a casserole by mixing all your ingredients into a baking dish and cooking them in the oven.
- Put your scramble on a slice of bread for an open-faced egg sandwich.
- Stuff your scramble into a tortilla to make a delicious breakfast burrito.
How to Put Together a Healthy Egg Scramble, Casserole, or Frittata:
- Use one or two eggs beaten together, or the equivalent in egg whites.
- Use up to one cup of raw or sauteed veggies, such as tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach, hot chile peppers, potato, onion, or zucchini.
- Use about two ounces of sauteed lean protein, such as pan fried tofu, ground turkey, ground chicken, or black beans.
- To add flavor:
- Instead of adding salt, try seasoning your meal with spices such as black pepper, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, dill, or thyme.
- Top your dish with some chopped green onion or chives.
- Eat with a side of healthy, low-sodium salsa or hot sauce.
Additional Components to Round Out the Meal:
- Drink 1 cup of low fat milk or soymilk.
- Eat your scramble with a small bowl of fruit or a piece of toast on the side.
- Add a couple ounces of shredded low-fat cheese to the mixture for some added dairy.
- If your main dish doesn't include dairy, have a small bowl of cottage cheese on the side.
Egg Scramble Variations and Recipes to Try:
- Egg & Tofu Scramble Recipe
- Recipe for Quick Egg, Potato, and Veggie Burritos
- Zucchini Scramble Recipe
- Bell Pepper and Vidalia Onion Strata Recipe
- Garden Frittata Recipe
Stuffed Veggies: A Satisfying and Showy Dish for Lunch or Dinner
- Uses mostly whole ingredients
- Great for leftover meats and grains
- Moderately versatile
- Can be made very low-carb
You've probably heard of stuffed peppers before, but what about stuffed squash, stuffed tomatoes, and stuffed mushrooms? Turns out there is a wide variety of vegetables that are perfect for filling up with a healthy balance of nutritious veggies, grains, and cheese.
Stuffed veggies might take a little more effort to prepare than some of the other meals on this list, but they have such a layered flavor and amazing presentation that they're well worth the work. This makes them perfect for special occasions, entertaining, or for treating yourself to something a little bit fancy for no reason at all.
Although stuffed vegetables are often made with rice, you can make this meal a healthier source of carbs by swapping out the white rice with a whole grain (e.g. brown rice, or whole-grain quinoa, or whole-grain couscous). Or, for a low-carb alternative, forget the grain entirely and include extra protein (e.g. meat or beans) or additional veggies instead.
How to Put Together a Healthy Stuffed Veggie Dish:
- Use any medium to large stuffable vegetables of your choice, such as bell peppers, tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, potatoes, or squash (e.g. zucchini, summer squash, or acorn squash).
- Finely chop a small amount of additional vegetables for flavor, such as tomato, onion, peppers, or corn.
- Cook enough rice, quinoa, or another similar grain to fill the stuffable vegetables about half-way; alternatively, you could use whole-grain breadcrumbs or skip the grain altogether.
- Cook enough lean protein to fill the stuffable vegetable about half-way, such as ground turkey, ground chicken, lean ground beef, or beans.
- Shred a low-fat cheese to add to your stuffing mixture (about one ounce per stuffed vegetable serving).
- To add flavor:
- Instead of salt, season with a low-sodium taco seasoning or your own blend of spices (latin and cajun spices go well with this meal).
- Add some chopped parsley, cilantro, or green onion to brighten up your vegetable stuffing mixture.
Additional Components to Round Out the Meal:
- Serve with a side salad for some extra leafy greens.
- Eat a serving of fresh or grilled fruit on the side.
Stuffed Vegetable Recipes to Try:
- Herbed Spinach Quiche Portabella Caps
- Stuffed Green Peppers Recipe
- Meaty Stuffed Potatoes Recipe
- Stuffed Tomatoes Recipe
- Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers Recipe
Cold Charcuterie Platter: Convenient No-Cook Lunch Packed with Nutrition
- Quick and easy
- No cooking required
- High in fat and protein with option for very low carbs
- Versatile and portable
They come in many names and types, including meat & cheese plates, fruit & cheese spreads, charcuterie boards, and more. Whatever your preferred style, the core principal of the dish is this: it's a plate with an assortment of cold ingredients ready to mix-and-match, sandwich together, and pop in your mouth as you please.
While you might think of this kind of platter in terms of appetizers or entertaining, it can actually make a very nutritious and filling meal. It's also an easy dish to throw together when you don't have time to cook, and it's well-suited to making ahead and packing up to bring to work.
However, it's important to note that charcutterie ingredients (including cheese) tend to be high in salt. While it might be a good quick meal now and then, you're likely to overshoot your sodium limit if you eat a charcuterie board every day.
However, a carefully-crafted platter with low-sodium ingredients can significantly reduce the amount of salt in the meal while offering lots of protein, calcium, and a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals. You can also take advantage of the ingredient versatility of your cold lunch platter to catch up on nutrients like dairy and fruit, and to tailor your plate for any special nutrition needs you have (e.g. low-carb, high-fat, or high calorie diets).
How to Put Together a Healthy Cold Charcutterie Plate
- Start with a serving or two of cheese cut into bite-sized slices; keep it healthy by sticking to minimally-processed cheeses that are low in sodium, such as swiss, monterey jack, cheddar, and mozarella (additionally, choosing low-fat cheese varieties will reduce saturated fat).
- Include one or more fresh or dried fruits, such as apples, pears, cranberries, dates, or grapes; for a low-carbohydrate diet, choose low-carb fruits such as melons, berries, and peaches.
- Include one or more raw vegetables, such as sliced cucumber, sliced peppers, celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli florets.
- Consider adding a sliced meat like a low-sodium salami or deli meat; or, for a healthier alternative to cued and processed meats, use sliced boiled egg or sliced, grilled meats such as chicken, turkey, or lean beef.
- Add a serving of whole-wheat crackers (low-sodium is best) or a slice of bread cut into small pieces (or omit them altogether for a lower-carb meal).
- Finally, choose a dipping sauce that's on the healthier side, such as yogurt, hummus, whipped cream cheese, or a low-sodium mustard or salad dressing.
- To add flavor:
- Mix some chives and/or spices into your dipping sauce.
- Indulge in some salty pickles or olives on the side; chop them into tiny pieces to help a little bit go a long way.
Additional Components to Round Out the Meal:
- For extra protein, eat with a side of lentils or beans.
- Eat with a leafy green salad to balance out the meal with more vegetables (To add protein, top your salad with a couple ounces of chicken or lentils).
- Add extra healthy fat and calories with some natural, low-sodium peanut butter for dipping and spreading.
Cold Plate Charcutterie Recipes to Try:
- Protein-packed Charcuterie Board
- The Ultimate Healthy Charcuterie Plate
- 4 Healthy Charcuterie Board Ideas for Brunch
- Vegetarian Charcuterie Board Recipe
- Check out this guide to making a low-sodium charcuterie platter from the blog Hacking Salt
Grilled Fish with Fruit and Veggie Skewers
- High protein
- High in healthy fats
- Great way to meet your weekly seafood requirements
- Great way to include more fruits and veggies in your diet
The idea of a fish and veggie dinner might sound plain or mundane at first, but the right ingredients and technique can take this basic meal from bland to exciting in no time. In this recipe, we spice things up by cooking everything, including all the fruits and veggies, on the grill.
Using a grill to cook this meal adds deliciously smoky notes and a wonderful seared texture to all the ingredients. This gives them a layered, complex flavor without the need for unhealthy additions, and, unlike pan frying, you can grill just about any ingredient without adding extra oil or fat.
Grilled fish is also a pleasingly light meal—nutrient-dense but not too filling—which makes it a great choice for people with COPD who have trouble eating heavier meals. Fish-based meals also help you get much-needed vitamin D, a vital nutrient for bone health and respiratory function that many people with COPD tend to be deficient in.
If you use a fatty fish in this recipe, you also get a healthy serving of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of nutritious, naturally-occuring oil that is difficult to get in adequate amounts from other types of foods. Because of this, health experts recommend eating meals including fish at least twice a week, for a total of 8 ounces all together.
How to Put Together a Healthy Grilled Fish Meal
- Start with about 4 oz of seafood; opt for fatty fish that are high in omega-3's but low in mercury, such as salmon, pollock, catfish, mackerel, herring, trout, and shrimp (you can grill fish fillets directly on the grill or in a foil packet; for shrimp, simply nest them on a skewer to keep them together while you grill)
- Choose some of your favorite vegetables suited for grilling; keep in mind that some veggies grill better on a skewer, while others can be sliced into larger pieces to lay directly on the grill.
- Skewer veggies: sliced peppers, sliced onions, pearl onions, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and other veggies sliced into cubes.
- Direct-grill veggies: whole tomatoes, asparagus, whole peppers, circular onion cross-sections, and lengthwise-cut slabs of eggplant, zucchini, or another type of squash.
- Choose some of your favorite fruits that are suited for grilling, such as thick-sliced peaches and pineapple (directly on the grill), or cubed mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, banana, or watermelon (for skewers).
- To add flavor:
- Season your fish fillets by brushing them lightly with olive oil, rubbing them with a favorite low-sodium spice blend, or soaking them in a low-fat, low-salt marinade before cooking.
- After cooking, drizzle your ingredients with lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or a low-fat vinaigrette for a tangy, citrus flavor. (You can easily make your own homemade vinaigrette using equal parts oil and a high-quality vinegar—a surprisingly delicious and low-salt alternative to commercial dressings)
- Drizzle your fish with a light, low-fat cream sauce, such as a yogurt hollandaise sauce.
Additional Components to Round Out the Meal:
- To include some dairy in this meal, add a sprinkling of shredded cheese to your fish and/or vegetables; hard cheeses like parmesan, asiago, and swiss tend to go well with a variety of types of fish.
- Alternatively, add dairy by eating your meal with a side of cottage cheese.
- Include some healthy leafy greens by adding a small side salad, or turning the whole meal into a salad by plating your fish and veggies on top of a bed of leafy greens.
- Include some grain in this meal by putting your grilled fish on top of a slice of whole grain bread to make an open-faced sandwich, or by stuffing all your ingredients into a whole grain tortilla to make delicious fish tacos or wraps.
Recipes to Try:
- 12 Easy and Healthy Grilled Fish Recipes
- How to Grill Fruits and Vegetables
- Grilled Fruit and Vegetable Kabobs
- Simple Grilled Salmon and Vegetables
- Easy Grilled Shrimp
- Crispy Grilled Mackerel with Garlic & Lemon
Additional Healthy Cooking Tips
While we've already given you some healthy tips and tricks that go with the recipes listed above, we wanted to share some cooking and meal-planning advice that is a little less recipe-specific. That's why we put together the following lists of tips and tricks for preparing meals in healthier, more convenient, and more budget-friendly ways.
Tips for Saving Time When Cooking Healthy Meals at Home:
- Reduce how often you need to cook by making sure you always have leftovers; do this by making larger quantities and double-batches of food.
- Freeze leftover food so you can have an easy meal in a week or two. Good items for freezing include: sauces, quiches, burritos, soups and soup broths, and much more.
- Do the bulk of prep-work for meals (e.g. washing, chopping, and gathering ingredients) ahead of time to significantly reduce the workload when you're ready to cook your meal.
- Sit on a chair or stool to do prep-work in order to preserve energy and reduce shortness of breath.
- Save time and energy by buying conveniently pre-sliced fruits, veggies, and meats.
- Make simple one-pan meals (e.g. casseroles, sheet pan dinners, and one-pan skillet meals) to reduce how much time you have to spend cooking and cleaning up dishes afterward.
Tips for Reducing Added Oils and Saturated Fat in Your Meals:
- Choose cooking methods that require little or no added fat, such as baking, broiling, and grilling; avoid pan frying with too much oil and deep-frying, especially.
- Substitute plain yogurt in for heavy cream, milk, sour cream, or mayonnaise in baking and cooking recipes.
- Instead of adding oil or butter to the frying pan, saute vegetables and meats in a tablespoon or two of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth.
- Choose low-fat cheeses instead of full-fat cheese, which contains more saturated fat.
- Recognize sources of saturated fats, which include: butter, lard, beef fat (tallow), palm oil, and coconut oil.
- Avoid meats high in saturated fat, including: fatty beef, pork, lamb, and poultry skin.
- Cook with unsaturated fats, including vegetable oils like olive oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil.
- Using a spray-on oil when cooking can help you avoid adding more than you need.
- Use egg whites instead of whole eggs (in a 2 whites to 1 egg ratio) to avoid the saturated fat in the yolk.
- Instead of buttery microwave popcorn, make your own air-popped popcorn and season it with your favorite spices and flavorings.
Tips for People on High-Calorie Diets or Those Who Need to Gain Weight:
- Include lots of nutrient-dense foods in your diet, such as milk, eggs, beans, tofu, healthy meats, oats (e.g. oatmeal and granola), cheese, nuts, and nut butters (e.g. peanut butter and almond butter).
- Always keep healthy, high-calorie snacks on hand to much on in-between meals.
- Make meals easier to eat by using more finely-chopped ingredients and cooking meats and veggies until they are soft enough to chew comfortably.
- If you struggle to finish meals, avoid drinking liquids immediately before or during mealtimes and prioritize eating the most nutrient-dense items on your plate first.
- Avoid empty calories (e.g. soda, unhealthy snacks, and sugar) and choose nutritious alternatives instead.
- If needed, replace some of your daily meal calories with a healthy protein bar or liquid meal replacement.
- Increase your appetite by exercising daily and taking walks before meals.
Tips for Reducing and Substituting Carbs:
- Avoid sugar (a particularly unhealthy simple carb) in all forms including candy, soda, sugary baked goods, and sweetened drinks (including fruit juices with added sugar)
- When making sandwiches, you can eliminate half of the bread by making it an open-faced sandwich instead.
- Avoid fruit juices, which are packed with carbs, to whole fruits, which have fiber and are much more filling.
- Substitute high-carb snacks like crackers and pretzels with low-carb alternatives like nuts, cheese, cottage cheese, or sliced fruits and vegetables with a yogurt dip.
- Avoid eating too many high-carb vegetables like potatoes, corn, beans, peas, and squash.
- Avoid eating too many high-carb fruits like bananas, grapes,
- Substitute bread or grains in meals with extra meat, veggies, nuts, berries, or a bed of lettuce.
Tips for Cooking on a Budget:
- Plan your meals ahead of time so you can shop for exactly what you need and avoid unnecessary extras.
- Buy produce that is in-season, when it is cheapest, and use source the rest from the frozen food aisle or low-sodium canned goods.
- If you tend to waste produce, buy frozen and preserved varieties that stay good much longer than fresh produce.
- Buy food staples like rice, beans, oats, pasta, and other grains in bulk; they will keep for months in airtight containers.
- Cook with low-cost sources of protein, including: eggs, beans, lentils, tofu, and canned tuna or salmon.
- Avoid buying processed foods and snacks, which tend to be the most expensive; instead, substitute healthier options that you can make yourself at home
Other Guides on Nutrition and Meal Planning from Our Respiratory Resource Center:
- 11 Foods You Should Not Eat if you Have COPD
- 21 Foods You Should Eat if You Have COPD
- How to Make Shopping, Meal Prepping, and Cooking Easier if You Have COPD
Additional Online Resources for Healthy Meal Planning (note that many of these links take you directly to a PDF document):
- Weekly Meal Planning Calendar: a simple meal planning template from ChooseMyPlate (a website run by the USDA)
- Sample Menus: Healthy Eating for Older Adults
- Sample 2-Week Menu from ChooseMyPlate
- Cookbook: Healthy Eating on a Budget (from the USDA)
- Cookbook: Healthy, Tasty, Affordable Latin Cooking (Spanish version available from the USDA's website)
- Recipes and Meal Ideas from MyPlate Kitchen
- Guide to Following a Low-Carb Diet
Sticking to a healthy diet takes a lot of effort and dedication, and it can be a particularly difficult challenge for people with COPD. However, it's much easier when you have the right knowledge and tools and some practical examples to follow.
Providing your body with adequate nutrition is actually pretty simple once you get the hang of what good nutrition looks like and what it means to put together a healthy, balanced meal. And though learning new skills can be intimidating, the work is well worth the benefits it can bring to your life, your health, and your ability to manage your COPD.