How Do You Improve Lung Health? Start With Eating These Foods for Healthy Lungs
If you’re here because you want to breathe easier, repair lung damage, or improve your lung health in general, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’m going to show you 10 amazing and affordable foods that will strengthen your lungs.
I’m no doctor, let me just make that clear right off the bat. So don’t take my words as professional health advice. If you haven’t already, please take a few minutes and read the disclaimer on my website before you proceed.
But I am someone who has a keen interest in keeping my lungs in optimal shape, almost to a point of obsession, even before this pandemic madness. Why? Because my life depends on it.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare, serious, and progressive lung condition that gradually (or in some cases very rapidly) robs someone’s ability to breathe.
The Story Behind My Lung Disease
The news came like a bolt of lightning on a bright, sunny day, shattering the quiet happiness of my world. The life I had worked so hard to rebuild after the last storm seemed like it could crumble in an instant.
My hematologist, the doctor who had saved me from two bouts of Leukemia years prior, confirmed the diagnosis I’d been dreading: Bronchiolitis Obliterans. I knew the name already from hours of intense research on the internet (not a good thing to do if you’re prone to anxiety). And I knew—again from the internet—that the general prognosis was poor.
The ordeal actually began years before this very moment—back to when I was just 21 years old. By then I had already developed Acute Myeloid Leukemia—a type of blood cancer—twice in the short span of 2 years. There wasn’t a lot of options left. I had to receive the bone marrow from an unrelated donor in order to survive.
The bone-marrow transplant went without a hitch, but apparently somewhere along the way the archenemy of all transplant processes decided to wage a war against me—but it would do so stealthily. It’s called “Graft Versus Host Disease” whereby the cells from the donor viciously attack those of the host. And the war zone was in my lungs.
Nobody knew this had happened to me. I was living a full and robust life after cancer and didn’t have any symptoms of respiratory distress to indicate anything was wrong. So it wasn’t until a routine lung function test almost 7 years after the transplant did anyone catch that something was amiss.
According to my lung specialist, my lungs now function at around 60% of what you’d expect from a female at my age. Looking at the numbers on my lung function tests alone, my lungs show what they call “almost severe obstruction”. And yet, to all my doctors’ amazement, I show no symptoms—no shortness of breath (unless I’m exercising hard), no cough (which is a classic symptom of this illness), and no signs of slowing down.
I require no medication or any other treatment, and I live an active and busy life.
Now you might wonder—how have I been able to manage my lung condition so well?
What I Do to Keep My Lungs Healthy
I attribute the successful management of my lung disease to three things: Diet, exercise, and mindset. I’ll elaborate on the other two aspects in future posts but today, I’m talking all about diet. I’m going to share the 10 foods I eat on a regular basis to keep my lungs working as well as they can.
Again, keep in mind these are the foods that I’ve found through my personal research, and that have worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they will for sure work for you. The good thing is that most of the foods on my list are common, inexpensive, and appropriate to consume on a regular basis. You won’t have to worry about shelling money out for some ridiculously overpriced supplement with long-term safety concerns in order to improve your lungs.
Now without further adieu, here are my top 10 foods for healthy lungs.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Read the full (warning: it’s boring) disclosure here.
10 Foods Good for Lungs and Breathing
There’s more truth to the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctors away” than you might think. Besides being an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C, apples also contain an array of antioxidants that can help reduce chronic inflammation and keep cancers—like the cancer of the lungs—at bay.
And that’s just a fraction of what the small but mighty apple can do for our body. Researchers found that eating more than 5 apples a week can give you an edge on lung function tests and it might slow down the lung’s natural decline over time due to factors such as pollution. These are the reasons why I eat an apple a day and always keep a fresh supply in my fridge.
2. Snow Fungus
What makes it so popular and how does it benefit our lungs?
For one thing, it has a mild taste that makes it easy to incorporate into soups, salads, or desserts. And when boiled in water for an extended period of time, it releases a natural gelatin and turns its surrounding liquid into a viscous soup that boasts excellent hydration properties. Drinking this soup can help ease a dry throat, reduce chronic cough, and keep your lungs (and your skin) supple and moist.
But why is the snow fungus good for our lungs? According to ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are certain foods that—upon entering our digestive system—will have a healing effect on specific organs and meridians within the body. And the snow fungus happens to have that effect on the lungs.
I have no doubt that my habit of drinking snow fungus soup is one of the reasons why I don’t have the nagging dry cough that plagues many sufferers of my lung condition. And since I started drinking it more regularly, I’ve also noticed that the dry eyes and dry mouth symptoms that followed me since my cancer days are much better.
Now don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself! The best place to find the snow fungus is at a local Asian grocery store or Chinese herb shop. Look for ones that have a dense bloom, a yellowish colour (really white ones are likely bleached), and has a mildly sour scent.
Here’s my simple recipe to make enough snow fungus soup to last you a week:
- Submerge a bulb of snow fungus in cold water for 20 minutes. This is to rehydrate the dried bulb so it’s easy to clean before cooking.
- Cut off the yellowish stem at the bottom of the bulb and cut up the rest of the snow fungus into small pieces.
- Put the pieces of snow fungus into a pressure cooker like the Instant Pot (or a slow cooker) with water. I use a 1:5 ratio—1 cup of snow fungus to 5 cups of water.
- Cook for 2 hours in a pressure cooker or 7 hours in a slow cooker, until the liquid becomes thick enough to leave a film on your spoon.
Feel free to add ingredients like lily bulbs, apricot kernels, and lotus seeds that are also good for the lungs. You can also put in a bit of rock sugar or honey to sweeten things up if you like, but don’t overdo it, especially if you plan to drink it every day like I do.
3. Monk Fruit
I’m a tea fiend and there’s nothing I love more than a hot cup of monk fruit tea. It’s got an earthy aroma, deliciously sweet taste, and it makes me feel good that I’m doing something beneficial for my lungs.
What’s a monk fruit, you ask?
Known by the Chinese as “luo han guo”, the monk fruit is a small, green melon with a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine for the treatment of sore throat and excess phlegm.
The Chinese also call it “divine fruit”, and for a good reason. The fruit is not only safe for all types of people to consume—including those with diabetes since it doesn’t increase blood sugars—but it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that helps hydrate and detoxify our respiratory system.
Now you won’t find any fresh monk fruit in Asian supermarkets as it’s used mostly as a dried fruit which you can then use to make a tea out of. If you can’t find the dried fruit version either, here’s the link to a monk fruit extract tea on Amazon.
4. Vitamin D
If you suffer from frequent respiratory infections or chronic conditions like asthma or COPD, you might want to talk to your doctor about supplementing your diet with vitamin D. Even if you don’t have a lung condition, vitamin D may be able to help protect your lungs from future disease.
Research shows that Vitamin D can inhibit inflammation in the lungs while enhancing our natural defenses against respiratory viruses.
Unfortunately, most people don’t get enough vitamin D, especially those who live in a climate where the sun just isn’t there for half of the year (raise my hand). Therefore, it’s worthwhile to talk to your doctor about your vitamin D levels and look for ways to increase your vitamin D intake, such as through a high-potency vitamin D supplement.
5. Mulberry Leaves
Mulberry leaves, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, can reduce lung heat, moisten the lungs, and ease symptoms of upper respiratory infections.
I have been drinking mulberry leaf tea regularly for the past year. What I’ve noticed is that I don’t get as many colds now as I did before. And even when I do get sick, the symptoms are significantly milder. Now I can’t say this is all from drinking mulberry leaf tea since it’s only been a year, but my experience with it has been so positive that I feel confident enough to recommend it to others.
Even in a healthy adult, the lungs gradually weaken after the age of 35. But as a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables—particularly tomatoes (and apples which I already mentioned earlier)—can slow down that decline.
In order to get that effect though, opt for fresh tomatoes instead of processed products such as tomato sauce or tomato juice. Now here’s an easy and quick tomato salad recipe perfect for the summer!
Think dandelion is just another common garden weed? Think again.
Every part of the dandelion, from the leaves to the roots, is a gem. It’s been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to reduce inflammation and eliminate toxins from the body. And in recent years, the humble dandelion is getting more and more attention from the rest of the world for its many potential benefits. However, most people still don’t know just how beneficial dandelion can be—especially for the lungs.
A recent study showed that the use of dandelion led to a significant reduction of lung inflammation in mice with artificially induced inflammatory lung disease. Although more research is needed, this finding is exciting as it suggests that for anyone with an inflammatory lung disease such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, or my lung condition (Bronchiolitis Obliterans), dandelion could provide some relief.
The easiest (and palate-friendly) way to consume dandelion is by making a tea out of its dried leaves and roots. Here’s a dandelion tea product that uses both the leaves and roots, which can be hard to find as many products seem to only include one or the other, not both.
But before you go out and buy (or dig up) a bunch of dandelions, please note that although the plant is likely safe for most people, it still has some potential risks and side effects. If you’re allergic to ragweed or taking prescription medications such as diuretics or antibiotics, you should consult with your physician first before you start consuming dandelion on a regular basis.
When you have excess phlegm in your respiratory tract, it’s not a pleasant experience. Besides feeling like there’s something stuck in your throat all the time, it can cause relentless coughing fits that leave you restless day and night.
I used to get a lot of mucus and phlegm whenever I had the cold or the flu. I’d cough for weeks—sometimes until my back was so sore I couldn’t even get out of bed. I wouldn’t be surprised if all that coughing and phlegm buildup somehow contributed to the current state of my lungs.
After my lung diagnosis, I decided I wasn’t going to allow that kind of coughing fits to put further strain on my lungs. I decided I would do everything I could to avoid getting the cold or flu, but more importantly, keep excess phlegm from building up if I do get sick.
And that’s when I discovered the healing effects of limes on our respiratory system. Not only do limes provide an abundance of vitamin C and antioxidants that can boost the immune system and keep colds and flus at bay, but the acidity in limes also thins out mucus and phlegm and makes them easier for your body to eliminate.
So I started to add a slice or two of lime in my water regularly, and I haven’t had a bad cough since.
Why limes? I personally like the taste of limes more, but if you prefer lemons, that works too.
When I was undergoing chemotherapy, I had severe anemia which made me feel dizzy and winded even if all I did was getting up to use the bathroom.
Then someone shared a recipe to help me with these symptoms—it was a juice blend of beets, broccoli, and carrots. The juice tasted so horrid just the thought of it still makes me gag to this day. But it worked. I felt better, more energetic, and needed fewer blood transfusions.
At the time, I didn’t know why and how it worked, but now I do.
Science shows that beetroot juice helps the body use oxygen more efficiently and this, in turn, leads to increased exercise tolerance. The key ingredient to the increase in performance is nitrate, and beetroots have loads of it.
So if your lungs are already impacted by a condition and are not functioning at their peak, you might want to give beets a try. It’ll help you make good use of the oxygen in your body and improve your stamina.
I was never a big fan of grapes before, but now I make sure it’s on my grocery list every week.
It’s full of antioxidants, polyphenols, and something called “anthocyanin flavonoids” which may help protect lungs from damage. Plus it’s good for many other parts of your body like your heart, your eyes, and your brain. All in all, the grape’s got too many benefits for anyone to pass up.
Just make sure you opt for fresh, dark-skinned grapes though, and eat the skin too.
That’s it for my top 10 foods for lung health. Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comment section below!