Every day, you use your lungs to breathe about 25,000 times, reports MedlinePlus, a website of the National Institutes of Health. Lung diseases such as cancer, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma can limit your body's ability to take in oxygen, which all of your cells need to function. To keep your lungs in tiptop condition, follow a healthy diet full of fresh foods. Some of the best foods for lung health include pumpkin, papayas, spinach, kale, yellow peppers, guava, black beans, lentils, wild salmon and russet potatoes.
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Specific members of the carotenoid family of phytonutrients may help prevent lung cancer, reports the Linus Pauling Institute. Phytonutrients are compounds that occur in plant foods, giving them their bright hues. In particular, beta-cryptoxanthin and a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin show promise in protecting against lung cancer. Pumpkin has the highest concentration of beta-cryptoxanthin, with papayas second. To get the most lutein and zeaxanthin, add the leafy greens spinach and kale to your diet.
Antioxidant Vitamin C
You probably turn to vitamin C when you have a cold, but research shows that intake of this antioxidant also has benefits for pneumonia, a common lung infection. In a review of five studies published in the “Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine” in 2007, researchers found that vitamin C intake had a preventive effect on pneumonia in three of the studies, and a therapeutic effect in the other two. If you only eat oranges for vitamin C, it’s time to reassess your choices. For the most vitamin C per serving, choose yellow bell peppers and guava.
Boosting your intake of foods containing folate, a B vitamin, may also help protect your lungs from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a term that covers a variety of lung conditions, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some forms of asthma. A study of adults with COPD published in the “Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition” in 2010 found that breathlessness from the condition is associated with a low intake of dietary folate. Researchers concluded that increased folate intake could benefit lung function overall. The two foods highest in dietary folate per serving are black beans and lentils.
B-6 for Lung Health
Like folate, vitamin B-6 is associated with better lung function overall and protection against lung cancer in particular. In a study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” in 2010, researchers looked at more than 385,000 blood samples from male smokers and nonsmokers and discovered a lower risk of lung cancer in those with higher B-6 elevations in their blood. To incorporate good B-6 sources into your diet for healthy lungs, look to wild salmon and russet potatoes.
- MedlinePlus: Lung Diseases
- Linus Pauling Institute: Carotenoids
- Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: Vitamin C May Affect Lung Infections
- HealthAliciouNess.com: Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin C
- COPD Foundation: About the COPD Foundation
- Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Folate Intake Associated with Lung Function, Breathlessness and the Prevalence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- HealthAliciousNess.com: Top 10 Foods Highest in B9 (Folate)
- JAMA: Serum B Vitamin Levels and Risk of Lung Cancer
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin B6