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 disease.
What’s more, specific nutrients and foods have been identified to be particularly beneficial for lung function.
Here are some foods that may help boost lung function.
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 (7).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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