Eating well with a lung condition

Find out why a healthy diet is important for managing your lung condition and how to make some quick and simple changes to your food choices to help you stay well.

Why is eating well important for my lungs?

If you live with a lung condition, eating well is very important for your overall health. A well-balanced diet with the right vitamins and minerals can help you to stay strong and fit. It can also help you prevent chest infections and keep your lungs healthy.

Eating well is also important for children’s growing lungs. Find out more about nutrition and children’s lung health

If you have another condition

If you have a lung condition as well as other conditions, you should speak to your healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet. This is because you may have specific needs with your diet if you have another condition such as diabetes, kidney, or liver disease. 

What is a balanced diet?


Each of these food groups helps keep you and your lungs healthy:

  • Fruit and vegetables have vitamins and minerals that support your immune system to help you fight off chest infections. 
  • Carbohydrates give your body energy for breathing and everyday tasks. Choose high fibre or wholegrain versions, such as brown pasta and rice or wholemeal bread. They’ll make you feel fuller for longer, protect your heart and help digestion. 
  • Protein like meat, beans and eggs helps to keep your muscles strong. This includes your chest muscles, which help your ribs expand as you breathe. This helps you get the most out of exercise and pulmonary rehabilitation (PR). Protein is also important for your immune system. 
  • Dairy like milk and cheese are a good source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. This includes calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Calcium is also important if you take steroids, which increases the risk of weak bones or osteoporosis. 
  • Oil like sunflower oil and olive oil contain a range of vitamins, such as vitamins A and E, which are important for fighting infections.

To find out more, have a look at the NHS Eatwell Guide. There are also Eatwell Guides available for African and Caribbean and South Asian diets

Help with food costs

We know that eating well can be expensive. That’s why we’ve put together advice on how to get help with food costs.

What vitamins should I have?

If you live with a lung condition, vitamins like A, C, D and E help protect you against colds, flu and other chest infections by improving your immune system. Having a lung conditions increases your risk of getting seriously ill with a chest infection. This is why it’s important to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals into your diet by eating from all the food groups.

It’s better to get most vitamins through your diet or from sunlight, rather than through a vitamin tablet. However, if you are low in certain vitamins, your doctor may tell you to take a supplement tablet.

All adults are recommended to take vitamin D during autumn and winter. This is because vitamin D mainly comes from sunlight. But some people are more at risk of low vitamin D levels all year round. These include:

  • people over 65, as their skin makes less vitamin D
  • people with darker skin, including Asian, African, Afro-Caribbean, and Middle Eastern people
  • people who always cover most of their skin when they’re outside
  • people who spend very little time outside during the summer months, such as those who can’t leave the house, work indoors, or work night shifts
  • pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

If you have sarcoidosis

If you have sarcoidosis you should not take vitamin D unless your levels are low. This is because there is a risk of hypercalcemia, which is too much calcium in the blood.

How much water do I need to drink?

You should try to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day, which is around 2 to 2.5 litres a day. This can include water, tea, coffee, milk, or low-sugar squash. Try to limit fruit juice and smoothies to one small glass (150ml) a day.

Drinking plenty of fluid will keep you hydrated and keeps phlegm and mucus moving. If phlegm sits in your airways and lungs, you’re more likely to get an infection.

Your pee should be clear or pale yellow when you’re hydrated. If it’s darker or smells strong, you need to drink more fluid.

Eating well with a restricted diet

You can still eat a healthy, well-balanced diet if you have a restricted diet. You may just need some help from your healthcare professional.

You may have a restricted diet because of:

  • a food allergy or intolerance 
  • a medical condition, like diabetes 
  • fasting for religious reasons.

If you have a lung condition and need to follow a restricted diet, it’s always best to speak to your healthcare professional or a dietitian about how to stay healthy.

Coeliac and gluten-free diets

Carbohydrates are an important part of your diet. But if you’re coeliac or gluten free, you may need to look for gluten-free alternatives to some carbohydrates. It’s easy to find gluten-free flour, bread, and pasta. Potatoes and rice are naturally gluten-free.

Coeliac UK has more information on keeping a balanced diet without gluten.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

Protein and dairy are an important part of your diet. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there are lots of options to make sure you still get a healthy balance of all the food groups.

For protein, you can have:

  • soya 
  • tofu
  • nuts
  • beans
  • cheese
  • eggs.

For dairy alternatives, you can have:

  • soy milk 
  • oat milk 
  • almond milk 
  • rice milk 
  • coconut milk
  • vegan cheese.

The Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society both have Eatwell guides that you can use.

Fasting with a lung condition

If you’re fasting for religious reasons, for example during Ramadan, you may choose not to take medicines for your lung condition during this time. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor first before changing or stopping any medicines.  

We have more information about fasting with a lung condition. 

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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