What you eat has an effect on pretty much every aspect of your health—and that includes your lungs, too. That’s right, there are some foods that can promote good lung health, reduce inflammation and the presence of mucus, increase lung capacity, and improve your body’s ability to ward off lung disease. It’s especially important to do all you can to make sure your lungs are in the best shape possible right now, too. And you can easily do that by adding some of these foods to your diet.
Here’s what our experts recommend you add to your shopping list to help your lungs be as healthy as they can be with these best foods for lungs.
Potassium-rich bananas are an excellent choice for improved lung function, according to Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, who notes that potassium is “essential” for good lung health and function. According to one study from the Keck School of Medicine, consuming enough potassium, specifically as a child, helps to increase lung function and capacity. Along with bananas, avocados, squash, and oranges, are rich in the mineral as well.
Tomatoes, too, are rich in potassium, and that’s not the only way they help to improve lung health. One study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that a diet high in tomatoes slowed the decline of lung health in former smokers.
Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin C, which not only bolsters immune health but can also specifically improve lung health, according to Trista Best, registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements and adjunct nutrition professor.
“Part of its antioxidant properties help it to fight off infection that would potentially threaten lung health, like pneumonia, and prevent free radical damage to cells in the lungs,” she says.
Tomatoes’ richness in plant carotenoids, specifically lycopene, can also contribute to improved lung function. These compounds, according to Erik Levi, certified Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Health Coach at Holistic Nootropics, “show the ability to scavenger reactive oxygen species and lower oxidative stress, which is crucial for lung health.”
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Not only are sweet potatoes yet another great source of potassium, but like tomatoes and berries, they’re also rich in carotenoids and antioxidants. Because antioxidants counteract the effect of cell-damaging free radicals on the body, antioxidant-rich foods can help support lung health on the cellular level.
Like other orange vegetables, sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamin A, which, Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, editor of Best of Nutrition, explains, “supports respiratory linings and lowers the risk of lung infections.”
When our bodies metabolize food, we use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. As Dr. Lina Velikova, MD, Ph.D., a medical advisor at Supplements101.net, explains, the lungs’ primary function is to load the blood with oxygen—and filter out carbon dioxide—”reducing the level of carbon dioxide means less work for the lungs.”
While metabolizing any food requires that we use oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, not all foods produce the same amount of carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used. Carbohydrates, explains Colleen Wysocki-Woods, MS, RDN, Owner, ZEST Nutrition, “create the most carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen used.”
“Fat, on the other hand,” she says, “produces the least amount of carbon dioxide when it’s metabolized.” So this means that the omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon, then, can help reduce the symptoms of lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Omega-3 fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect, which has been shown to effectively battle the chance of developing lung disease.
“Omega 3’s found in fish are related to improved cardiovascular and systemic anti-inflammatory function,” says Dr. NavNirat Nibber, ND and Medical Advisor at Advanced Orthomolecular Research. “This means that any inflammation in the lungs or respiratory tract may benefit.”
Fatty fish are also rich in vitamin D, which Wysocki-Woods notes is one of “the most important vitamins for lung health.” It has been shown to exert a protective role in asthma sufferers.
Some mushrooms are also rich in vitamin D, including maitake, morel, chanterelle, oyster, and shiitake. Consuming more of these, explains Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, can help reduce airway inflammation.
“Mushrooms, in general, are good [for] the lungs and can support your immune system at the same time,” says Dr. Kyle Burton. “I personally take cordyceps. It’s a mushroom that benefits the lungs and helps regulate the balance of moisture in the lungs.”
Eggs contain high-quality protein, which, Manaker explains, “may help to support lung health and maintain strong respiratory muscles.”
“As lungs work harder to breathe,” says Wysocki-Woods, “muscles require more protein to maintain their mass and strength. Protein also supports immune function and wound healing.”
Like fatty fish, eggs are rich in vitamin D and healthy fats, too. And that’s just the beginning of their health benefits! Check out these 20 more reasons eggs could be your secret weight loss weapon.
A Johns Hopkins study that found tomatoes could slow the decline of lung health in former smokers also attributed this power to apples. Apples are high in quercetin, which boasts antihistaminic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties which, according to Lynell Ross, Certified Health and Wellness Coach and founder of education advocacy website Zivadream, could decrease the risk of chronic pulmonary disease, asthma, and bronchial hyperreactivity.
While many foods are high in quercetin, including onions, grapes, citrus, cherries, and capers, “apples are especially high in quercetin,” Ross says, specifically red delicious and northern spy varieties.
Thyme specifically is a “great remedy for coughing,” says Tsao-Lin Moy, acupuncturist and alternative medicine specialist, noting that it also “helps with breathing and sore throat.”
“Studies show that thyme was far superior for treating bronchitis compared to a placebo,” she says. “You can make thyme flavored water, by taking fresh sprigs and bruising to release the oils in the herb and infusing water.”
Consider adding some ginger to that infusion—this root is also great for lung health. Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, author of the best-selling books Keto Diet and The Collagen Diet, and host of The Dr. Axe Show, adds that ginger (and also turmeric) contains “special compounds” that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
“Consuming them may help to decrease lung damage and protect against DNA and tissue damage in the lungs,” he says.
Not only does ginger boast anti-inflammatory benefits, but according to Moy, “research shows that ginger has a relaxing effect on smooth muscles that will help the airways open.”
According to Dr. Axe, garlic, “especially when eaten raw or taken in extract form,” supplies antioxidants that can “help to protect cells in the lungs and defend against free radical damage.”
“Garlic may also boost the body’s detoxification pathways and support immune activation that protects the nasal passageways,” he continues.
According to Dr. Velikova, garlic also boasts “mild antiseptic properties” and can help reduce inflammation in the body—a plus for improved lung health.
Garlic is also one of several foods that are categorized as “pungent” in traditional Chinese medicine, according to Naturopathic Doctor Anna Johnson, owner of Anna’s Organics. This category, which also includes foods like cayenne pepper, is made up of several well-known expectorants and “mucus busters,” which can contribute to improved lung health.
Horseradish and wasabi—both fellow “pungent” foods in traditional Chinese medicine—can “stimulate the sinuses and thin out stagnant mucus in the lungs,” according to Moy.
“Research also shows that horseradish activates cancer-fighting enzymes,” she says, noting that horseradish is “a powerful antioxidant to add to a cancer-fighting diet.”
If chicken noodle soup is associated with healing a cold naturally, it’s not for no reason!
“The ancient Chinese used bone broth to nourish vital essence,” says Moy. Filled with minerals and collagen, bone broth can keep the throat moisturized and support the body and immune system, she explains.