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The Best Foods for Lung Health

Add these foods to your diet to keep your lungs healthy and strong.

Flowers and twigs in the shape of human lungs.
Science Photo Library/Getty Images

When it comes to lung health, you've likely heard the usual advice: avoid (or quit) smoking, stay away from highly polluted areas and exercise regularly. However, you might not realize that eating the right foods is also an excellent way to promote healthy lung function.

Like the rest of your body, your lungs benefit from a balanced diet full of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. But there are also some particularly powerful foods that can help you protect the health of your lungs and reduce the risk or symptoms of lung-related diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Below, you'll find seven of the best foods for lung health, including the key nutrients to bring into your diet if you're looking to boost lung function and prevent disease.

How does diet affect lung health?

Illustrated human respiratory system, including lungs.
magicmine/Getty Images

One way that diet affects lung health is through inflammation. Certain foods -- such as refined carbohydrates, soda and red meat -- cause inflammation in the body, which is associated with the development of many health conditions, including COPD and other lung diseases. By following an anti-inflammatory diet rich in like fruits, vegetables, fiber and healthy fats, you can reduce inflammation and maintain healthy organs. 

Some specific foods have also been linked to healthier lungs in research. For example, fruits such as apples and tomatoes contain high levels of antioxidants, which one study found can help with lung function. Similarly, consuming fiber-rich foods (like lentils and beans) has also been linked to better lung health.

In addition to eating nutritiously, there are also several other ways to protect your lungs against disease and toxins, including:

  • Not smoking or vaping (or quitting if you currently use nicotine)
  • Avoiding exposure to polluted air or secondhand smoke
  • Staying physically active
  • Following health and hygiene recommendations, including washing your hands and staying up to date on dental care and vaccinations

7 foods that benefit your lungs

Cabbage leaves and a red pepper.
BrightandBeautifulPhotography-KO'Brien/Getty Images

Generally speaking, eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is an excellent way to take care of your lungs. Here are seven foods for lung health that you can incorporate into your diet today.

Apples

Apples – in particular, apple skin – contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which has been shown to ease inflammation in the lungs and help people living with lung diseases like COPD. On top of that, eating apples and other fruits (including bananas and tomatoes) has been found to help prevent lung function decline, especially for people who used to smoke.

Peppers

Red bell peppers and chili peppers have high concentrations of vitamin C, another key antioxidant that promotes better lung health and decreases inflammation. Getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is important for everyone, but it's especially vital if you smoke since smokers have lower levels of vitamin C than non-smokers.

Beets

Beets, the bright-colored root vegetables, are packed with dietary nitrates. When consumed, your body converts these nitrates into nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels, increases oxygen flow and decreases blood pressure -- all of which help improve lung function. Beets also contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Leafy greens

Leafy green vegetables like Swiss chard, kale and spinach contain multiple kinds of antioxidants (including vitamin C and carotenoids) that help fight inflammation. Even better? Consuming enough carotenoids -- which are also present in tomatoes, bell peppers and many fruits -- is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer.

Legumes

Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils have high levels of fiber, which was found to improve lung function in one study. Another study found that consuming dietary fiber has a "protective effect" on the lungs of both smokers and non-smokers and helps reduce the prevalence of COPD.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes and tomato-based products (including tomato juice) are a fantastic source of vitamin C and lycopene, another type of carotenoid antioxidant that eases inflammation in the airways. Lycopene may also offer a reduced risk of death in people with COPD.

Berries

Deep-colored berries like blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are rich in anthocyanins, an antioxidant in the flavonoid family. Anthocyanins have numerous benefits, including reducing mucus and inflammation in the lungs, as well as the potential to slow age-related declines in lung function.

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Conclusion

Keeping your lungs in good shape is vital to your overall health. By adopting a diet that's rich in antioxidants, fiber and the other lung-strengthening nutrients mentioned above, you'll have a better chance at preventing lung disease and illness -- at least from a nutritional perspective.

On top of eating well, you can ensure that your lungs are as healthy as possible by following a exercising your body regularly. If you have a chronic illness, tracking key health metrics (in addition to seeing a medical professional) is a great way to stay on top of your lung health and overall well being.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.