The Weird Way What You Eat Affects How You Breathe

Paleolithic “Caveman” Diet

Breathing properly is essential to your health—naturally, of course. But while many people realize that the way they sleep affects their respiratory health, as does their habits (like smoking and a lack of exercise), many people fail to realize the weird connection that food has on your breathing.

When you think about it, however, you’ll quickly realize the connection. Food is the sustenance that keeps your body going and ensures all your bodily functions operate well, including breathing right.

Your body’s metabolism process transforms the food you eat into the fuel it needs to power all of your body’s reactions.

Just like you need the right nutrients to keep your bones strong, your skin healthy-looking, and your energy high, you need the right type of food to help you breathe easily.

Your body requires carbohydrates, protein, and fat to function properly—and all three of these require a different amount of oxygen to be broken down, and consequently produce a different amount of carbon monoxide (breaking down carbs requires the most carbon dioxide for the amount of oxygen it requires while breaking down fat produces the least amount of carbon dioxide compared to the amount of oxygen require to power the reaction).

So if you have a respiratory disorder like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for example, you might be able to breathe a little easier by eating more fat and fewer carbs.

Here are a few other ways your food impacts your respiratory system:

  • People with respiratory problems like COPD burn 10 times as many calories breathing compared to a healthy individual! So any basic function requires more calories, and more energy. If you have COPD, you need to ensure you’re getting enough calories and energy to fuel these functions.
  • Like any other muscles, respiratory muscles need to be strengthened as well. While you can’t exactly exercise these at the gym, the food you eat can make a big difference as well. Eating enough protein (at least two healthy servings per day) can ensure all of your body’s muscles—including your respiratory system—are healthy and strong.
  • Eating foods that cause you to get bloated or gassy can cause breathing problems, so you want to avoid those trigger foods.
  • Eating healthy foods with monounsaturated fats (such as the ones found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds) can help reduce mucus production.
  • Many health experts these days will encourage you to eat a few small meals per day, compared to just two or three large ones—and this doesn’t only impact your weight loss goals. Eating a large meal causes your full stomach to press up into the space below the diaphragm. If your diaphragm can’t move down as much (as you breathe, your diaphragm moves up and down), then your lungs don’t fill up completely when you breathe, making breathing more difficult.

Eating right affects a lot more than just your waistline—it affects the way you look, feel, and breathe! Making a few small changes in your diet can help you breathe a little easier.

“Nutrition,” American Lung Association web site;

McLaughlin, A., “Diet foods for respiratory lung problems,” Livestrong web site;