There is little that a diet, even a healthy one, can do to help prevent the onset of emphysema. About 85% of cases of emphysema are caused by smoking. The American Lung Association emphasizes that the single best thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing emphysema is to stop smoking. However, if you do develop the disease, there are several ways you can eat to stay healthier.
Malnutrition can be a significant problem among people with emphysema. In advanced stages, the marked decrease in lung function requires people to use extra calories just to take a breath. In addition, they often have a diminished appetite.
If you have emphysema, one reason eating may become less pleasurable is that your steady breathing is interrupted by chewing and swallowing -- catch up breaths may seem like gasps. Some people who breathe with extra effort swallow a small amount of air into the stomach with each breath, in addition to bringing air into their lungs. This can lead to burping or bloating from gas, but it is not dangerous. Try eating frequent, small meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals.
Eat foods that have a high protein content to help maintain muscle strength and tone in all your muscles, including the muscles that help you breathe. The American Lung Association suggests that you eat two high-protein servings per day. Foods that are high in proteins are red meat, fish, eggs and poultry.
You may want to avoid foods that cause gas, such as peas, broccoli, cabbage, corn, turnips, beans (except green beans), melons, onions, raw apples, cauliflower, cucumbers and Brussels sprouts. Gas can bloat the abdomen, making breathing more uncomfortable.
A portion of people who have emphysema or other lung disease will have symptoms of "right-sided" heart failure. Heart failure affecting the right side of the heart can cause leg swelling (edema). Eating a low-salt diet can reduce leg swelling.
Some people with emphysema, who need diuretics, may develop low levels of potassium in their bodies. Muscles need potassium for proper contraction. Low potassium levels add to overall weakness and impaired strength of the muscles needed for breathing. Foods high in potassium include lima beans, split peas, fresh mushrooms, sweet potatoes, raw nuts, fresh spinach, dates, raisins, dried fruits, oranges and orange juice, bananas, halibut, dry skim milk and beef.