Respiratory Health and Nutrition

A good diet is an important modifiable risk factor in developing, progressing, and managing good respiratory health.

Having a poor diet which does not have proper nutrients can negatively affect our health. Getting the right mix of nutrients in your diet and preventing inflammation can also help you breathe easier.

What is good respiratory health?

Good respiratory health is characterised by the absence of respiratory diseases. Common respiratory diseases include:

Respiratory health is influenced by several factors, like lifestyle choices, genetics, infection history, nutrition, and exposure to certain environmental factors. 

What foods can help you maintain good respiratory health?

Consuming a nutritious diet is vital for the optimal functioning of the respiratory system. A healthy diet is also essential for maintaining overall health. It protects against infections and diseases and goes a long way to keep your body strong. 

A well-balanced diet consists of a variety of foods in the right proportion and amount which helps maintain health. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are excellent examples of classes of foods to maintain your respiratory health. 

To keep your respiratory health in good shape, here’s a list of some foods to include in your diet:

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates provide the body with the energy it needs. Unlike simple carbohydrates, which are mainly sugars, complex carbohydrates are considered healthy as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fibre 

Common sources of complex carbs include: 

  • Potatoes
  • Barely
  • Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Corn 
  • Brown rice

There is a variety of evidence that shows that consuming complex carbohydrates is beneficial for lung function and may reduce the risk of death due to chronic respiratory diseases.¹


Research carried out amongst American adults found that eating foods rich in fibre has a positive effect on respiratory health.

Fibre-rich foods include: 

  • Whole grains, i.e. oats, wheat, brown rice
  • Beans 
  • Nuts e.g. almonds and chia seeds
  • Fruit and vegetables e.g. avocados, berries, apples, broccoli, carrots, green peas, and bananas

The advised daily intake of fibre for adults is 30g. To get enough fibre in our diet, it is suggested to consume a variety of fibre-rich foods. 


Potassium is an essential nutrient needed by the body. The major role of potassium in the body is to regulate normal fluid levels. It is also helpful in nerve functioning and muscle contraction. 

Potassium-rich foods promote lung function and protect against the danger of respiratory diseases.¹

Sources of potassium include:

  • Leafy green and starchy vegetables e.g. spinach and broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Dairy foods e.g. yoghurt, soy milk
  • Beans
  • Nuts e.g. cashew nut
  • Salmon
  • Avocados
  • Chicken 

The recommended daily intake of potassium for adults is 3,500mg.


Calcium helps keep bones and teeth healthy, and also aids in muscle contraction. 

Calcium deficiency may result in a condition known as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Studies show that adequate consumption of calcium reduces the risk of respiratory-related diseases such as COPD.¹

To get adequate calcium, consume the following foods:

  • Dairy products e.g. milk, tofu, cheese and yoghurt.
  • Beans and soybeans
  • Leafy green vegetables e.g. kale, okra, broccoli, and other vegetables
  • Clams 
  • Anything prepared with calcium-fortified flour
  • Fish

700mg is the daily suggested amount of calcium for adults.

Leafy greens

Leafy green vegetables are rich in a combination of nutrients such as fibre, vitamins A, C, K and B, and minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium. Consuming leafy green vegetables daily decreases the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as the risk of respiratory diseases. 

A study among Swedish adults found that the consumption of leafy green vegetables and fruits reduces the risk of developing COPD.¹ 

Evidence also shows that magnesium found in dark leafy vegetables serves as a protective and therapeutic factor against respiratory diseases such as asthma.² Therefore, the intake of leafy green vegetables enhances respiratory health and protects against respiratory diseases. 

Types of leafy green vegetables include:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Collard greens
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Beet green
  • Swiss chard and a variety of others

Try to consume at least one or two types of leafy greens daily. 


Carotenoids are nutrients that supply rich pigment (colour) to fruits and vegetables and are essential components of a balanced diet. Carotenoids are packed with antioxidants, which are excellent for maintaining respiratory health. 

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in carotenoids improve lung health and reduce inflammation in people with respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD.³

Examples of carotenoid-rich foods include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Egg yolks
  • Carrots
  • Avocados 


The food we eat plays a vital function in our health and life. A healthy diet is essential to maintain good respiratory health and prevent respiratory-related diseases. Try to consume foods rich in calcium, potassium, fibre, complex carbs, and meals containing leafy green vegetables and carotenoids, as these foods contain essential nutrients for the respiratory system.


  1. Scoditti E, Massaro M, Garbarino S, Toraldo DM. Role of Diet in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevention and Treatment.  Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1357. doi:10.3390/nu11061357
  2. Al-Alawi M.A, Majoni S.W, Falhammar H.  Magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2018.
  3. Garcia-Larsen V, Potts JF, Omenaas E, Heinrich J, Svanes C, Garcia-Aymerich J, Burney PG, Jarvis DL. Dietary antioxidants and 10-year lung function decline in adults from the ECRHS survey. Eur Respir J. 2017;50(6):1602286.  doi: 10.1183/13993003.02286-2016
  4. Root MM, Houser SM, Anderson JJ, Dawson HR. Healthy Eating Index 2005 and selected macronutrients are correlated with improved lung function in humans. Nutr Res. 2014;34(4):277-84. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2014.02.008. 

Amanda Yad-El Ugboji

Bachelors of science Public- Bsc Public health, Babcock University, Nigeria

Amanda is a public health entrepreneur and content creator with a strong passion for health communications.
She enjoys using her skills to contribute to projects aiming for sustainable health for all and equity. Related to this, Amanda is passionate about public health education.
She has two years of experience as a freelance writer, and her other skills include writing, blogging and public speaking." 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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