As vital as oxygen is to our bodies and overall wellness, keeping our lungs in top shape is naturally a top priority. By age 30, we typically reach our peak lung capacity. After that, a natural decline happens. Factors such as smoking status, exercise, and diet can impact how quickly the decline occurs.
Deep breathing restores lung function by using the diaphragm, and the food you eat can also have a notable effect. Antioxidants are often associated with decreased cancer risk, but they also serve a role in preventing inflammation. Studies have found that antioxidants can also help decrease lung function decline as we age. Whether you’re fighting the decline that comes with age, or decreased lung function after a battle with Covid, here are some foods that can help restore health and strength to your lungs:
Apples have an antioxidant called quercetin that is thought to be beneficial to lung health. Quercetin has anti-inflammatory properties and can decrease oxidative lung stress (1). This means that eating apples and other foods that contain quercetin (tea, wine, onions) might be able to slow the natural decline of lung function in adults.
Berries, particularly blueberries, can slow lung function decline thanks to anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables their color. An intake of 2 or more servings of berries per week was associated with a slower decline (2).
Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and sardines contain omega-3 fats. Omega 3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat known to decrease inflammation in the body, including the lungs. Regularly incorporating fatty fish into the diet can promote lung function by decreasing inflammation.
Research shows that a component in broccoli, called sulforaphane can protect the lungs against toxins. Sulforaphane is also found in other cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale.
The monounsaturated fats and vitamin E in olive oil are associated with better lung function. Incorporating more olive oil and less corn, soybean and safflower oils might protect your lungs against inflammation.
And here’s what to avoid… Evidence also suggests that processed meats, like bacon, ham, sausage and other cured meats, are associated with poor lung function due to large amounts of nitrates and advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) which increase inflammation and oxidative stress (4). People who consume a lot of saturated fat, which is found in red meat, butter, full fat dairy products, pastries and cakes, etc., are more likely to develop lung cancer than people on low fat diets (5). Consuming lean meats like poultry without the skin, fish and low fat dairy products can help lower saturated fat intake.
- Ganesan, S., Faris, A. N., Comstock, A. T., Chattoraj, S. S., Chattoraj, A., Burgess, J. R., Curtis, J. L., Martinez, F. J., Zick, S., Hershenson, M. B., & Sajjan, U. S. (2010). Quercetin prevents progression of disease in elastase/LPS-exposed mice by negatively regulating MMP expression. Respiratory research, 11(1), 131. https://doi.org/10.1186/1465-9921-11-131.
- Mehta, A. J., Cassidy, A., Litonjua, A. A., Sparrow, D., Vokonas, P., & Schwartz, J. (2016). Dietary anthocyanin intake and age-related decline in lung function: longitudinal findings from the VA Normative Aging Study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 103(2), 542–550. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.115.121467.
- Northwestern University. (2014, May 20). Vitamin E in canola, other oils hurts lungs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2021 from sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140520220424.htm
- Hitomi Okubo, Seif O. Shaheen, Georgia Ntani, Karen A. Jameson, Holly E. Syddall, Avan Aihie Sayer, Elaine M. Dennison, Cyrus Cooper, Sian M. Robinson. (2014). The Hertfordshire Cohort Study Group. European Respiratory Journal, 43 (4) 972-982.
- Jae Jeong Yand, Danxia Yu, Yumie Takata, Stephanie A. Smith-Warner, etc al. (2017). Dietary fat intake and lung cancer risk: a pooled analysis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 35(26) 3055-3064.