Eating This Snack Every Day Can Lower Your Risk of Developing This Super-Common Lung Condition

An estimated 16 million adults in the U.S. have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease characterized by limited lung airflow. Its symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, a cough that won’t go away and frequent chest infections.

The best way to avoid getting COPD is by not smoking, but diet can also play a role. While many know that what we eat impacts the heart (for better or for worse), the same is true for the lungs. In fact, there’s one snack in particular that’s so beneficial for lung health that eating it every day could lower your risk of COPD.

Related: Research Shows Lung Health May Be the Number One Indicator of Living a Long, Healthy Life—Here's How To Improve Yours 

What Is the Connection Between Diet and Lung Health?

“What we eat influences our overall health and the entirety of our health, including the health of our lungs,” says Dr. Timothy Craig Allen, MD, JD, FCAP, a pulmonologist, Chair of Pathology and Chief of the Pathology Service Line at Corewell Health East in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Allen explains that there is a direct connection between the gut and the lungs, called the gut-lung axis. “The gut-lung axis is a bidirectional exchange between the gut and the lungs. An imbalance in the gut’s microbial community has been implicated in lung diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and allergy-related lung diseases,” he says.

If you want to eat with lung health in mind, Dr. Allen recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, plant-based protein and fish. “Mediterranean diets preserve lung function whereas Western diets associated with processed foods, red meat and sugared soda drinks are associated with increased risk of developing COPD,” says Dr. Gerard Silvestri, MD, MS, a professor of medicine and a lung cancer pulmonologist at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Related: The Best Foods for Healthy Lungs—And the Ones You Should Avoid

There are a few reasons why following the Mediterranean diet can be beneficial for lung health. Dr. Allen says that one reason is that it champions foods high in antioxidants (like fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and legumes), and a diet high in antioxidants lowers the risk of respiratory diseases, including COPD. “Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamins A, C and E are also considered beneficial to lung health, and some may offer a protective effect against lung diseases,” he explains.

Dr. Allen says that the Mediterranean diet is also high in fiber, which also benefits lung health. This is because a high-fiber diet can help lower the risk of obesity, and obesity can negatively impact lung health. “Maintaining a generally healthy diet and weight will help keep breathing strong. If we become overweight, obesity in our abdomen can push up on our diaphragm, making it more difficult to take deep breaths. Additional weight also means that our muscles work harder to move, and therefore consume more oxygen. For people with lung disease, this can cause significant additional fatigue,” explains Dr. Russell Buhr, MD, PhD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at UCLA Health.

Related: 13 Signs Your Lungs May Not Be Healthy

What Is the Best Snack for Lowering the Risk of COPD?

If you want to take one step toward lowering your risk for COPD—besides not smoking—a great place to start is by having a daily snack that supports lung health. What should it be? Scientific research shows that regularly snacking on blueberries can keep lungs strong as we age, helping to protect against respiratory diseases like COPD.

The reason why eating blueberries supports lung health is because they contain a flavonoid called anthocyanin, a type of antioxidant that’s especially powerful in lowering inflammation. Blueberries have both of the nutrients that Dr. Allen says are so important for lung health: antioxidants and fiber.

Dr. Silvestri says that anyone who currently has COPD or wants to lower their risk of it can benefit from having a diet rich in antioxidants, which can include snacking on blueberries. But if you aren’t a blueberry fan, he says that there are plenty of other foods high in antioxidants you can incorporate into your diet, including vegetables and nuts.

While snacking on blueberries every day can benefit lung health, all three doctors say that what’s most important is maintaining a healthy diet overall, with foods high in nutrient-density. Additionally, Dr. Silvestri says that if you currently have COPD, the way you eat matters too. “The American Lung Association recommends these specific dietary tips for patients with COPD: resting before a meal, slowly eating with smaller bites of food, sitting upright while eating, having more substantial meals in the morning, avoiding foods and liquids that cause gas or stomach distension that can restrict diaphragm making breathing more difficult and considering a nutritional supplement at nighttime to avoid feeling full during the day,” he explains.

Incorporating a snack into your day that can help lower your risk of COPD is a great first step in supporting your lungs through what you eat. Build on this healthy habit by thinking about what you can eat for breakfast to support your lungs, then moving on to incorporating Mediterranean diet-friendly lunches and dinners into your routine. Over time, these steps will make a big difference!

Next up, learn about the most commonly missed early sign of COPD.