Chronic Bronchitis And Nutrition

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a productive cough that lasts for at least 3 months in a year and at least 2 years in a row. It is a type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Chronic bronchitis occurs as a result of the irritation and inflammation of the air tubes in the lungs leading to breathing problems. It is a long-term (chronic) illness that either does not go away or goes away and keeps coming back.

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, other possible causes are;

  • a family history of bronchitis
  • exposure to air pollution, dust, or toxic gases
  • passive exposure to secondhand smoke
  • genetic factors

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis

  • Productive cough (cough with a lot of mucus) 

This is caused by excessive production of mucus in the airways

  • Chest tightness 

Due to the constant irritation and inflammation of the airways of people with chronic bronchitis coupled with the excess mucus which leads to narrowing of the airways.

  • Wheezing

It is a whistling or squeaky sound made while breathing, it is caused by narrowed and inflamed airways.

Other symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include:

  • swelling in the ankles and legs
  • fever
  • fatigue

How can diet help manage chronic bronchitis?

Nutrients for the lungs  

The food you eat may affect your breathing since the body uses food to fuel all of its activities, obtaining the right mix of nutrients can significantly improve your lung health.

Food is converted to energy in the body in a process called metabolism. Inhaled oxygen helps to burn the food’s nutrient molecules. When proteins, fats, fibres, and sugars (collectively known as macronutrients) are broken down, energy is the final product. The waste product (carbon dioxide) is exhaled out of the lungs. 

Each nutrient type requires a certain amount of oxygen to be broken down and produces a certain amount of carbon dioxide in response to this. Carbohydrates require more oxygen and produce more carbon dioxide, while fats produce less carbon dioxide compared to the oxygen required to break it down.

In chronic bronchitis, there is difficulty breathing, and eating foods with fewer carbohydrates and more healthy fats may help to make breathing easier.

A healthy diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can also help in the management of chronic bronchitis.

Why are nutrients important?

Building blocks of everything, e.g. proteins from food used for the maintenance of respiratory muscles. Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fibres, vitamins, water, and minerals are all nutrients. The right balance of nutrients is the key to maintaining a healthy body including the lungs.

Antioxidants, fibres, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals contained in fruits and vegetables have beneficial effects in managing chronic bronchitis. Other foods with complex carbohydrates, potassium, and calcium also have positive impacts on the management of chronic bronchitis.

Food recommendations for chronic bronchitis

Now that you know the importance of nutrition in managing chronic bronchitis, the next step is to improve eating habits and maintain good nutrition. This would not only help you fight off infections but it would also help you breathe better. Here are some food recommendations for chronic bronchitis.

Note that these are general recommendations and it's best for you to talk with your GP so they can help you decide which diet plan would work best for you.

Complex carbohydrates

Patients with chronic bronchitis usually have a hard time breathing out carbon dioxide and carbohydrates usually produce more carbon dioxide per oxygen required to break them down.

The body takes time to break down the sugar molecules of complex carbohydrates because they contain longer chains of sugar molecules and hence they provide a relatively sustained energy release.

Complex carbohydrates are also rich in minerals, fibres, and vitamins. It is mostly found in whole foods and it includes foods like:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Oatmeal
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Peas


Dietary fibre can decrease lung inflammation and this results in better lung function. The American Lung Association recommends 20-30 grams of fibre daily which is found in foods like;

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains, such as oats, whole wheat bread, and brown rice
  • nuts and seeds

Potassium-rich foods

A healthy level of potassium in the body helps to maintain lung function. Foods rich in potassium include:

  • Fruits such as bananas, oranges, dates, grapefruits, and apricots
  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Pumpkins
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes

Calcium-rich foods

There is a positive association between calcium intake and lung function. Some sources of calcium are:

  • Leafy vegetables
  • Orange juice
  • Figs
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Almonds

What to avoid?

Let's talk about what foods can be problematic for chronic bronchitis.

There are certain foods that a person with chronic bronchitis should avoid to minimize the symptoms.

Excess salt

Fluid retention is characteristic of chronic bronchitis and swelling can develop in areas like ankles, feet, and legs. Consuming foods with a high salt content can make the swelling worse, and it can also make breathing difficult.

Check with your GP about salt substitutes. They could harm your health.


Dairy products should be avoided as they can make phlegm thicker. However, you can continue to take them if they don't worsen your phlegm. Examples are milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream.

Foods that cause bloating

Fruits such as apricot, apples, melons, and peaches as well as vegetables such as beans, cabbage, corn, onions, and leeks can cause bloating in some people because they contain fermentable carbohydrates. This may lead to breathing problems in people with chronic bronchitis.

I recommend consulting with your GP or a nutritionist to construct a personalized meal plan so you can have the best options specific to you.


Nutrition plays a big role in the management of chronic bronchitis. Making sure to plan healthy snacks and meals rich in nutrients such as complex carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, and fibre. Avoiding excess salt, dairy products, and foods that cause bloating can help manage symptoms and reduce complications.


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Faridah Ojulari

Bachelor of Pharmacy - BPharm, Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Ilorin

Faridah Ojulari is a Medical Writer and a Bachelor of Pharmacy undergraduate from Nigeria.

She has a burning passion for writing and providing credible medical and health information.

Over the years as a Pharmacy student and medical writer, she has developed strong research, management, and communication skills.

Faridah is an avid learner and has taken various certification courses including research writing in the sciences, content creation, digital marketing, and data analysis.
She strongly believes that the most important skill a person can have is communication. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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