Keeping your lungs healthy is essential to feeling your best. Yet, common factors, including exposure to cigarette smoke and environmental toxins, as well as eating an inflammatory diet, can take a toll on this pair of important organs.
What’s more, common conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis, can significantly affect your quality of life.
However, research has shown that lifestyle modifications, including following a nutrient-rich diet, can help protect your lungs and even reduce lung damage and symptoms of the disease.
What’s more, specific nutrients and foods have been identified to be particularly beneficial for lung function.
Here are 20 foods that may help boost lung function.
1. Beets and beet greens
The vibrantly colored root and greens of the beetroot plant contain compounds that optimize lung function.
Beetroot and beet greens are rich in nitrates, which have been shown to benefit lung function. Nitrates help relax blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and optimize oxygen uptake.
Beetroot supplements have been shown to improve physical performance and lung function in people with lung conditions, including COPD and pulmonary hypertension, a disease that causes high blood pressure in the lungs.
Additionally, beet greens are packed with magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and carotenoid antioxidants — all of which are essential to lung health.
Peppers are amongst the richest sources of vitamin C, a water-soluble nutrient that acts as a powerful antioxidant in your body. Getting enough vitamin C is especially important for those who smoke.
In fact, due to the damaging effects of cigarette smoke on your body’s antioxidant stores, it’s recommended that people who smoke consume an extra 35 mg of vitamin C per day.
However, many studies show that smokers may benefit from higher doses of vitamin C and that smokers with high vitamin C intake have better lung function than those with lower vitamin C intake.
Consuming just one medium-sized (119-gram) sweet red pepper delivers 169% of the recommended intake for vitamin C
Research has shown that regularly eating apples may help promote lung function.
For example, studies show that apple intake is associated with a slower decline in lung function in ex-smokers. Additionally, consuming five or more apples per week is associated with greater lung function and a reduced risk of developing COPD.
Apple intake has also been linked to a lower risk of asthma and lung cancer. This may be due to the high concentration of antioxidants in apples, including flavonoids and vitamin C.
The brightly colored flesh of pumpkins contains a variety of lung-health-promoting plant compounds. They’re especially rich in carotenoids, including beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin — all of which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies show that having higher blood levels of carotenoids is associated with better lung function in both older and younger populations.
People who smoke may significantly benefit from consuming more carotenoid-rich foods like pumpkin.
Evidence suggests that smokers may have 25% lower concentrations of carotenoid antioxidants than nonsmokers, which can harm lung health.
Turmeric is often used to promote overall health due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin, the main active component in turmeric, may be especially beneficial for supporting lung function.
A study in 2,478 people found that curcumin intake was associated with improved lung function. Plus, the lung function of smokers who had the highest intake of curcumin was significantly greater than smokers who had low curcumin intake.
In fact, high curcumin intake in smokers was associated with 9.2% greater lung function, compared with smokers who did not consume curcumin.
6. Tomato and tomato products
Tomatoes and tomato products are among the richest dietary sources of lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant that has been associated with improved lung health.
Consuming tomato products has been shown to reduce airway inflammation in people with asthma and improve lung function in people with COPD
A 2019 study in 105 people with asthma demonstrated that a diet rich in tomatoes was associated with a lower prevalence of poorly controlled asthma. Plus, tomato intake is also associated with a slower decline in lung function in ex-smokers.
Blueberries are loaded with nutrients, and their consumption has been associated with a number of health benefits, including protecting and preserving lung function.
Blueberries are a rich source of anthocyanins, including malvidin, cyanidin, peonidin, delphinidin, and petunidin.
Anthocyanins are powerful pigments that have been shown to protect lung tissue from oxidative damage.
A study in 839 veterans found that blueberry intake was associated with the slowest rate of decline in lung function and that consuming 2 or more servings of blueberries per week slowed lung function decline by up to 38%, compared with low or no blueberry intake.
8. Green tea
Green tea is a beverage that has impressive effects on health. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is catechin concentrated in green tea. It boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to inhibit fibrosis or scarring of tissues.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease characterized by progressive, lung-function-compromising scarring of lung tissue. Some research shows that EGCG may help treat this disease.
A small 2020 study in 20 people with pulmonary fibrosis found that treatment with EGCG extract for 2 weeks reduced markers of fibrosis, compared with a control group.
9. Red cabbage
Red cabbage is an affordable and rich source of anthocyanins. These plant pigments give red cabbage its vivid color. Anthocyanin intake has been linked to a reduced decline in lung function.
What’s more, cabbage is packed with fiber. Studies show that people who consume more fiber have better lung function than those who consume low amounts of fiber.
Edamame beans contain compounds called isoflavones. Diets rich in isoflavones have been associated with a reduced risk of numerous diseases, including COPD.
A study in 618 Japanese adults found that people with COPD had much lower intakes of dietary isoflavones, compared with healthy control groups. What’s more, isoflavone intake was significantly associated with better lung function and reduced shortness of breath.
11. Olive oil
Consuming olive oil may help protect against respiratory conditions like asthma. Olive oil is a concentrated source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, including polyphenols and vitamin E, which are responsible for its powerful health benefits.
For example, a study that included 871 people found that those who had high olive oil intake had a reduced risk of asthma.
What’s more, the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, has been shown to benefit lung function in smokers, as well as people with COPD and asthma.
Oysters are loaded with nutrients that are essential to lung health, including zinc, selenium, B vitamins, and copper.
Studies show that people with higher blood levels of selenium and copper have greater lung function, compared with those with lower levels of these nutrients.
Additionally, oysters are an excellent source of B vitamins and zinc, nutrients that are especially important for people who smoke.
Smoking depletes certain B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is concentrated in oysters. What’s more, studies show that higher zinc intake may help protect smokers from developing COPD.
Yogurt is rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and selenium. According to research, these nutrients may help boost lung function and protect against COPD risk.
A study in Japanese adults found that higher intakes of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium were associated with increased lung function markers, and those with the highest calcium intake had a 35% reduced risk of COPD.
14. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are amongst the richest sources of selenium that you can eat. A single Brazil nut may contain over 150% of the recommended intake for this important nutrient, though concentrations vary significantly depending on growing conditions.
Studies show that a high selenium intake may help protect against lung cancer, improve respiratory function in people with asthma, and enhance antioxidant defenses and immune function, which may help improve lung health.
Because Brazil nuts are such a concentrated source of selenium, it’s recommended to keep your intake to just one or two nuts per day.
In addition to boosting your energy levels, your morning cup of joe may help protect your lungs. Coffee is packed with caffeine and antioxidants, which may be beneficial for lung health.
Research shows that coffee intake may help improve lung function and protect against respiratory diseases. For example, caffeine acts as a vasodilator, meaning it helps open blood vessels, and it may help reduce symptoms in people with asthma, at least in the short term.
Additionally, a review of 15 studies found that long-term coffee intake was associated with positive effects on lung function and a reduced risk of asthma.
16. Swiss chard
Swiss chard is a dark leafy green that’s high in magnesium. Magnesium helps protect against inflammation, and it helps bronchioles — tiny airways inside your lungs — stay relaxed, preventing airway restriction.
Higher magnesium intake has been associated with better lung function in a number of studies. What’s more, low magnesium levels are associated with worsening symptoms in people with COPD.
Additionally, many studies have linked greater intake of leafy green vegetables like Swiss chard to a reduced risk of lung cancer and COPD.
Barley is a nutritious whole grain that’s high in fiber. High fiber diets rich in whole grains have been shown to have a protective effect on lung function and may reduce the risk of mortality from lung-related diseases.
The antioxidants found in whole grains like flavonoids and vitamin E also promote lung health and protect against cellular damage.
Anchovies are tiny fish that are packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, as well as other lung-health-promoting nutrients like selenium, calcium, and iron.
Eating omega-3-rich fish like anchovies may be particularly beneficial for people with inflammatory lung diseases like COPD. A 2020 study found that a higher intake of omega-3 fats was associated with reduced COPD symptoms and improved lung function.
What’s more, consuming an omega-3-rich diet may help reduce symptoms in people with asthma.
Lentils are high in many nutrients that help support lung function, including magnesium, iron, copper, and potassium.
The Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with promoting lung health, is high in legumes like lentils.
Research has shown that following a Mediterranean dietary pattern can preserve lung function in people who smoke. Plus, eating fiber-rich lentils may help protect against lung cancer and COPD.
Cocoa and cacao products like dark chocolate are high in flavonoid antioxidants and contain a compound called theobromine, which helps relax the airways in the lungs.
Cocoa intake has been associated with a lower risk of allergic respiratory symptoms and may help protect against lung cancer.
Additionally, a study that included 55,000 people found that those with higher flavonoid consumption from foods, including chocolate products, had better lung function than people who had diets low in flavonoids.
The bottom line
Consuming a diet high in nutritious foods and beverages is a smart way to support and protect lung health.
Coffee, dark leafy greens, fatty fish, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, oysters, blueberries, and pumpkin are just some examples of foods and drinks that have been shown to benefit lung function.
Try incorporating a few of the foods and beverages listed above into your diet to help support the health of your lungs.