The primary function of our lungs is to transport oxygen from the air we breathe to our body’s cells while eliminating harmful carbon dioxide. Healthy lungs are what makes breathing – therefore, life – possible for just about every living creature.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the process of inhalation and exhalation (i.e. ‘breathing’) happens approximately 25,000 times a day. So…we breathe…a lot.
Several lung diseases have been associated with oxidative stress and linked to oxidant insults such as cigarette smoke, air pollutants and infections. Consequently, dietary factors and nutrients with a protective role in the oxidative process and inflammatory response have been implicated in the genesis or evolution of these diseases. – The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease
Various lung diseases: asthma, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pneumonia negatively affect our body’s inherent ability to deliver needed oxygen to our billions of cells. And while medical professionals continue to warn us against the dangerous effects of carcinogens (e.g. cigarette packaging), pollutants and infections, dietary effects on lung health are not as well-known.
However, advanced research is being conducted that directly links diet and lung health. For example, the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society recently concluded a study explaining the correlation between a high-fiber diet and lower risk of COPD. COPD is responsible for the third-highest number of deaths in the world, and encompasses a wide range of lung conditions.
Health professionals the world over have been advocating for a more aggressive public relations campaign that links lung health and dietary habits. As with most (every?) organ of the human body, our lungs are directly impacted by the foods we choose to consume.
In this article, we discuss 5 of the most important foods to consume for ensuring healthy lungs. We discuss the categories of foods (e.g. antioxidants) that each food belongs to, and make some recommendations on how all of us can use our diet to promote lung health.
Here are 5 foods that help to give us healthier lungs:
1. Pumpkin or Sweet Potatoes (beta carotene)
Research shows that diets containing high levels of beta carotene could benefit lung health. A primary element of plant foods, beta carotene is part of the carotenoid family, which can be found in a number of fruits and vegetables.
Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A – an important nutrient to lung health. Other fruits and veggies include apricots, broccoli, carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes and red peppers.
2. Oranges (vitamin C)
Foods with a high concentrations of vitamin C, including oranges, have been linked to better overall lung function. Unsurprisingly, those with diets rich in vitamin C have a lower risk of developing lung cancer and other related ailments. This is particularly true for those who eat plenty of citrus fruits.
Other foods in this category include: broccoli, brussels sprouts, green and red peppers, kiwifruit, potatoes and tomatoes.
3. Dark Leafy Greens (folate)
Not much of a shock that one of the world’s healthiest foods is also the highest in folate – a type of vitamin B. Folate may prevent various forms of COPD, including asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
In one study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers concluded: “The COPD patients had significantly lower habitual intake of folate than control subjects. Lung function measures were found to be positively associated with dietary folate level. Reductions in prevalence of COPD and especially breathlessness were observed…”
4. Beans and lentils (hemoglobin-boosters)
To optimize the oxygen transportation faculties of the lungs, healthy hemoglobin levels are absolutely critical. Hemoglobin is a protein molecule found in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to body tissue. Additionally, hemoglobin stimulates the internal processes that returns carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be expelled from the body.
Black beans, cowpeas, dried peas, lentils, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and soybeans are all foods containing properties that raise hemoglobin levels. As an added benefit, supplement beans and lentils with vitamin-C rich foods to maximize iron absorption.
5. Dark Chocolate (antioxidants)
Ok – so to this point, we’ve listed a bunch of healthy foods. But none that (really) satisfy the sweet tooth…well, here’s some good news for chocolate lovers. Dark chocolate is a terrific source of antioxidants – a substance essential to counteract the damage created via oxidation of the body’s cells. Oxidation of the cells, as confirmed by numerous studies, have been shown to be a catalyst of many lung-related diseases and disorders.
There are many other good sources of antioxidants as well, including: blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, plums, strawberries, artichokes and red kidney beans.
Davis, C. P., MD, PHD. (n.d.). Hemoglobin: Learn About Normal, High, and Low Levels (W. C. Shiel Jr. MD, FACP, FACR, Ed.). Retrieved December 09, 2016, from http://www.medicinenet.com/hemoglobin/article.htm
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Hiriyama, F., Lee, A. H., Terasawa, K., & Kagawa, Y. (2010, March). Folate Intake Associated with Lung Function, Breathlessness and the Prevalence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 19(1), 103-109. doi:10.2147/copd.s119992
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Newman, T. (2016, January 27). Dietary fiber and lung health: Eat well, breathe easy. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/305585.php
Romieu, I. (2005, April). Nutrition and Lung Health. The International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, (9)4, 362-374. Retrieved December 9, 2016 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15830741